History of the Missouri School of Journalism

Newspaper printing press

The new Missourian printing plant that opened in 1920 included Linotype machines, a new duplex press, a stereotyping room, a photo-engraving lab and an advertising lab. The new press helped enlarge the six-column, four-page Missourian into an eight-column, eight-page newspaper. Photo from the University Archives, C:11/13/3.

The School of Journalism has the distinction of being the first journalism school in the world. It opened its doors on Sept. 14, 1908, and students went to work right away. The first day's class prepared the first issue of the University Missourian newspaper, later renamed the Columbia Missourian.

There was intense opposition across the nation to the development of a journalism curriculum within any university. Opposing forces argued that journalism could not be taught in an academic setting. Successful newspapermen required talent and a long apprenticeship under conditions that could not be matched in any university hall. The Missouri State Senate defeated a bill in 1895 that requested that a chair of journalism be established at the university. The Senate also disallowed the university from granting degrees in journalism. The Missouri Press Association threw its support to the idea in 1896. A chair was once again requested by the curators. However, no funds were granted.

Walter Williams, the editor of the Columbia Missouri Herald, and a university curator influenced opinion to establish the school. Ten years passed before the proposal was commonly accepted. Walter Williams was named the first dean. In the midst of the Depression in 1930, the Board of Curators chose Williams to lead the university through the economic crisis. Williams had turned down an offer of the presidency in 1921, but this time he could not refuse. He remained president until his death in 1935.

In May 1910, the school held the first annual Journalism Week celebration. Several nationally well-known and successful news media professionals and faculty lectured throughout the week in an open forum. In 1930 the first Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism was awarded. Since then more than 500 outstanding journalists and leading journalism organizations have received one of the industry's highest and most prestigious awards.

The first journalism building was built in 1919 from funds donated by Ward A. Neff in honor of his father, Jay H. Neff. Today, the School of Journalism encompasses seven buildings. They are Neff, Neff Annex, Walter Williams, Gannett,  Lee Hills Halls, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and the KOMU-TV station on Hwy. 63. The KBIA-FM station is located on the fourth floor of Jesse Hall, and the school’s Washington, D.C., program office is housed in the National Press Club building in Washington, D.C.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation awarded the two largest gifts ever to the University of Missouri to the school for the Reynolds Journalism Institute. In 2004, a $31 million gift provided the physical facilities and initial operating expenses for the institute. In 2012, a $30.1 million gift established a permanent endowment fund to support ongoing operating expenses.

Originally, studies at the School of Journalism focused predominately on editorial writing and news management for newspapers. In 1936 the school offered the first course in radio broadcasting in cooperation with KFRU, the local studio for the St. Louis Star-Times. Radio journalism is now taught in conjunction with KBIA, the local NPR-affiliate station. In 1953, the school began television broadcasting training with KOMU-TV, the first and only commercial affiliate television station used as a training lab for students. The school also offers emphases in photojournalism, magazine journalism, strategic communication and convergence journalism, the most recent emphasis established in 2005. Students in these areas receive practical training by working for VOX magazine, an arts and culture city weekly; Mojo Ad, a student-staffed advertising and public relations agency; MyMissourian, an online citizen journalism forum; IPI Global Journalist, an international magazine; and the Missouri Digital News, a state-government reporting program.

The Missouri School of Journalism is known internationally for its Missouri Method, which allows students to receive hands-on training in real news media and agency outlets. These are:

  • AdZou is a strategic communication agency that serves national, regional and local clients.
  • The Columbia Missourian is a family of publications that includes a website, a digital suite of apps, a print publication and e-books.
  • Global Journalist is a converged newsroom that covers global issues and challenges to a free press.
  • KBIA-FM 91.3 is mid-Missouri’s NPR-member station.
  • KOMU-TV is affiliated with both NBC and CNN. the first and only commercial affiliate television station in the United States that uses its newsroom as a training lab for students.
  • Missouri Digital News is statehouse reporting on government and political issues from the statehouse in Jefferson City.
  • Mojo Ad works with local, regional and national clients whose brands target teens and young adults, those in the 18-to-24 age group.
  • VOX magazine publishes a weekly iPad edition and a daily culture and entertainment blog called VoxTalk.