A Century of Journalism at Syracuse University

Slocum Hall archive photo
Slocum Hall was headquarters to the College of Business Administration, which included the Department of Journalism when it was founded in 1919.

It was almost a footnote—a small department, run by committee, part of a fledgling business school at a 49-year-old university.

But so it began.

One hundred years ago, in 1919, what would eventually become the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications started at Syracuse University as the Department of Journalism. Located in Slocum Hall, the department was part of the new College of Business Administration (now the Whitman School of Management), which had also been founded that year.

“New System for Journalism Course” read the headline in The Syracuse Herald on Aug. 25, 1919. The committee in charge of the department included William P. Baker, editor of The (Syracuse) Post Standard; Edward H. O’Hara, the paper’s publisher; Paul M. Paine, director of the Syracuse Public Library; and historian and author Franklin H. Chase. The program was initially open only to juniors and seniors.

Headline in The Syracuse Herald on Aug. 25, 1919

Syracuse students were already delving into journalism even before the department was established. The Daily Orange, the student newspaper, was founded in 1903; in 1909, the honorary journalistic fraternity Pi Delta Epsilon was founded at Syracuse—the first chapter in the country. It would later become the Society for Collegiate Journalists, which still exists today.

The new department offered a “weekly two-hour discussion of the theory and style of news presentation to the reading public,” according to an article in the Post-Standard in September 1919. “Students pursuing the course will be instructed in the methods employed every day by reporters and news gatherers for the big city dailies. Another feature is the proposed plan of sending students out on special assignments to acquaint them with the actual work of newspaper men and women.”

Those assignments included visits to police headquarters, the mayor’s office, the county courthouse and the Chamber of Commerce. Groups of students also staffed and published single issues of local papers, including The Oswego Daily Times, The Geneva Daily Times, The Norwich Sun, The Rome Daily Sentinel and several others.

Onondagan yearbook photo of The Daily Orange women's staff in 1919
The Daily Orange “women’s staff” in 1919 (Onondagan)

Journalism students formed a press club in 1925, and that same year, the department gained membership in the Association of American Schools and Departments of Journalism—a precursor to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), which today counts the Newhouse School among its members.

By 1929, 85 students were enrolled in the journalism program. That year, Professor John O. Simmons, who had become department head a few years earlier, described the program in an article published in The Syracuse Herald. Simmons noted that students took a large number of courses in the liberal arts, with about one fourth of their coursework in journalism. Classes included News Writing, History of Journalism, Feature Writing, Editorial Writing and Newspaper Practice. A thesis was required for graduation.

“Journalism students on the Hill may be described as preparing themselves for positions of responsibility on journals which seek to enlighten the public on the true facts of the progress of society from day to day,” Simmons wrote.

In 1934, the Department of Journalism became the School of Journalism, founded under the leadership of Dean M. Lyle Spencer. At the time of his appointment, Spencer, who had left a position as president of the University of Washington to come to Syracuse, said, “Emphasis will be placed on the social and ethical responsibilities of journalism, with foundational studies in the fields of economics, political science, modern history, modern languages, literature and law and history of the press.”

Yates Castle
Yates Castle, located on Irving Avenue, was home to the School of Journalism from 1934 to 1953.

The new School of Journalism was housed in Yates Castle, a Gothic style stone-and-brick structure on Irving Avenue, and journalism students were referred to as “Kastle Kids.” The building was also home to several student publications, including The Daily Orange, which had been acquired by the University in 1922. (The paper would become independent in 1971.)

The year 1934 also saw the passage of the Communications Act, which would shape the field of broadcasting for decades, and the first college credit radio course in the country, offered at Syracuse. In 1947, the University launched WAER, one of the nation’s first college radio stations.

The School of Journalism remained in Yates Castle until 1953, when the University announced that the building would be demolished to allow for the expansion of the medical school. Journalism classes were conducted on campus in the Women’s Gymnasium (which stood near the site of the current Physics Building), and in a series of Quonset huts located near Crouse College. The editorial offices of The Daily Orange were also moved to one of the huts, which students nicknamed “the Hellbox.”

Journalism students on campus in the early 1950s
Staff of The Daily Orange at work in the “Hellbox” in the early 1950s.

Wesley Clark, who had been named dean of the school in 1952, announced a $750,000 campaign to raise funds for a new journalism building. But it was around this time that Syracuse Chancellor William Tolley met New York publishing magnate Samuel I. Newhouse, and discussions began about a gift from Newhouse to fund the building. That gift—at that time the largest in University history—was $15 million, announced in 1962 in support of a planned three-building complex.

Two years later, Newhouse and his family stood alongside President Lyndon B. Johnson at the dedication of the first of those buildings, Newhouse 1. (Newhouse would also see the dedication of Newhouse 2 in 1974, and his sons would preside over the dedication of Newhouse 3 in 2007.)

In 1971, the School of Journalism merged with the Department of Television and Radio, and Tolley recommended to the Board of Trustees that the school be renamed in honor of its biggest benefactor.

Fifty-two years after the Department of Journalism was quietly founded at Syracuse University, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications was born.

A student in the WAER studio in the 1970s
A student mans the turntable in the WAER studio in the 1970s.