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John Stempel

Blog post by Rod Spaw

The History Center’s current exhibit, Breaking the News, couldn’t hold all the stories of Monroe County newspapers. So here is a Breaking the News EXTRA: John Stempel, newspaperman and educator.

From the Herald-Times photo archive at the MCHC (2021. 047.2588)

John Stempel learned the gritty lessons of journalism in newsrooms from the Bloomington Evening World to the New York Sun. But his greatest contribution was as an educator of journalists at Indiana University.

Stempel was born in Bloomington in 1903. He began writing for the World as a 17-year-old high school student. As an IU undergraduate, he served as editor of the Indiana Daily Student. His classmates included Ernie Pyle, who would achieve fame as a World War II correspondent, and Nelson Poynter, future president of the St. Petersburg Times and namesake of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at IU.

Stempel worked for a year as city editor of the Bloomington Star before heading off to Columbia University in 1926 to obtain a master’s degree. He then worked for the New York Sun and the Easton PA Express, returning to his hometown in 1938 as chairman of the IU Journalism Department.

The department grew in size and stature under the leadership of Stempel, whose goal was to build a program of journalism instruction rivaling that of Northwestern and Missouri universities. The IDS, which he also supervised, expanded during his tenure from weekly to daily publication.

In 1938, Stempel created a high school institute, which continues to sponsor workshops for Indiana’s aspiring journalists and their teachers.

Students remembered him as a tough but fair instructor who took an interest in what they did after graduation. “He saw it as an unpardonable sin to misspell words and chewed blood from anyone who abused the English language,” one wrote in supporting Stempel’s nomination to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1970.

Stempel’s impact on journalism education extended beyond Indiana. In 1947, he helped establish accreditation procedures for college journalism programs. He was elected in 1954 to the American Council on Education for Journalism by the Association for Education in Journalism. He served as chairman of the Associated Press in Indiana, and he was an officer of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

Stempel stepped down as chairman of the IU Department of Journalism in 1968, becoming a professor emeritus. After retirement, he was a consultant to newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Bloomington Herald-Telephone.

He died in 1982.


SOURCES: John Stempel obituary, The Herald-Telephone, Jan. 21, 1982; John Stempel biography, Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.