John E. Stempel · 1970
By Frank G. Talbott
John Emmert Stempel, journalist and educator and head of Indiana University’s journalism department from 1938 to 1968 was born in Bloomington, Indiana, May 6, 1903. His parents, Guido H. Stempel and the former Mary Myrtle Emmert, were both members of the Indiana University faculty.
He majored in history and was graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1923 from Indiana University where he was a classmate of Ernie Pyle, World War II correspondent. He began writing for newspapers as a high school student in 1917 for the Bloomington Evening World and later as a college student wrote for several newspapers and was editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student.
Following graduation he became director of publicity and instructor in English and journalism at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania. He returned to Bloomington in 1926 to become city editor of the Star-Courier and part-time instructor in advertising and journalism at Indiana University.
He went to Columbia University in 1927 for a master of science degree in journalism and to be editor of the Columbia Alumni News and assistant secretary of the alumni fund. While at Columbia he married Mary Roberts Farmer, a newspaper woman and also a native of Bloomington, August 30, 1928. They had two sons, John Dallas and Thomas Ritter Stempel.
He worked on the copy desk of the New York Sun from 1929 to 1936 and then moved to Easton, Pennsylvania, where he was news editor and managing editor of the Express for two years.
From 1938 to 1968 he headed the Indiana University Department of Journalism and in 1968 he became professor emeritus. He postponed his retirement in 1968 for a year and was interim educational advisor at the Defense Information School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
Following his retirement he was consultant to several newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus, Indiana, Republic, Bedford Times-Mail, and Bloomington Herald-Telephone.
He received widespread recognition for his work as a newsman, teacher, textbook publisher, and community leader.
He was national president of Sigma Delta Chi in 1934 and the following year he was awarded the fraternity’s Wells Memorial Key for that year’s most outstanding contribution to journalism. He was named “Newsman of the Year” in 1968 by the Indianapolis Press Club and the same year was given the first Rocking Chair Award by the Indiana University student chapter of Sigma Delta Chi. In 1963 the Columbia School of Journalism awarded him its Bronze Medal as an outstanding alumnus. He was recipient of the Elihu Stout plaque for distinction in journalism from Vincennes University, the year he was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
He served as chairman of the Associated Press of Indiana, secretary-treasurer of the American Council for Education in Journalism, and in 1948-49 was president of the American Association of Schools and Departments of Journalism. He was an officer in the Associated Press Managing Editors Association and held an honorary membership in the Women in Communications, Inc.
After a lengthy illness he died January 21, 1982, in Bloomington Hospital a month following the death of his wife, Mary.
The Indiana University journalism department grew from a staff of three to twelve while John E. Stempel was chairman. Instruction was expanded on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Instruction was introduced in news photography and broadcast journalism. Work in magazine journalism expanded and the doctor of philosophy degree in mass communications was developed.
The Daily Student was expanded from a weekly to a daily newspaper and two major wire services were added.
Stempel and Norman J. Radder, a former copy reader on The New York Times, were co-authors of Newspaper Editing, Makeup and Headlines in 1943. Radder was an associate professor of journalism at Indiana University and with Stempel had earlier collaborated on Newspaper Makeup and Headlines in 1924. At that time, Stempel was an instructor at Lafayette College.
He compiled the Indiana Daily Student style book with Nelson Poynter in 1922. The style book was revised with J.W. French and others in 1943 and again in 1948.
He was the author of numerous articles for professional magazines and journals.
Also at Indiana University he initiated a high school institute in 1938 with an enrollment of 47 students from 22 schools. The institute continued to grow and attract large numbers of high school journalists each summer.
Stempel maintained close ties to his church and organizations in his native city and state serving as senior warden, trustee and member of the Diocese Councils, Trinity Episcopal Church; chairman United Episcopal Charities Diocese, Indianapolis; finance chairman, Monroe County Ministries; District III governor, Rotary International; director, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce; member, Board of Aviation commissioners of Bloomington; United Fund; and Red Cross.
John E. Stempel, interview by Earl L. Conn, Bloomington, Indiana, February 18, 1970 and April 2, 1970.
Professor Stempel was a leader in helping to establish an accreditation program for schools and departments of journalism beginning in the fall of 1947.
Procedures were organized for making two-day visits to colleges and universities seeking accreditation. Stempel described the format of obtaining factual data, interviewing faculty members, and developing a summary for the accreditation committee.
In 1954 Stempel was elected to the American Council on Education for Journalism by the Association for Education in Journalism (AEJ) and later was elected its secretary-treasurer.
Reviewing the accreditation program, Stempel said it had changed and “had become divorced from a fairly restrictive approach to getting people needs, away from a tight ship feeling, expanded in its scope with strong insistence fundamentally that a student of journalism must be able to write and edit effectively.”
Darrell L. “Bud” Zink, interview by Frank G. Talbott, Muncie, Indiana, June 14, 1942.
Zink came under Stempel’s tutelage from 1945-48 as a student and sports editor of the Indiana Daily Student. Speaking of Stempel, Zink said, “He was mean as nails, but he was fair and a pusher.”
Seniors Hank Webster, editor of the IDS, and Zink wore white hats called “pods” as members of the Sphinz Club. “Stempel hated the pods,” Zink said, “and when he saw us wearing them he called us into his office and said to us, ‘take the g–damn pods off and leave them off; you look like a bunch of scruffs.’ But when we were ready to graduate and he knew we had sent in our resumes to newspapers trying for jobs, he sent for Hank and me and gave us tips first on where the best jobs were as they received them at the Placement Service. We know he was trying to do the best job for us he knew how.”
“At one time there was a battle being waged over whether to name it the Department of Journalism or School of Journalism. Stempel’s primary goal was to create the best department he could and at the time place it on a par with Northwestern and Missouri,” Zink continued.
“He took an interest in all graduates. He nearly blew my mind when my daughter entered I.U.; he remembered me after more than 30 years. (Zink’s daughter is an I.U. journalism graduate.) He knew where his graduates were and followed them; his products proved the results of the work he did.”
“When I was editor of the Alexandria News, a weekly, in the only county of the state with five daily newspapers, he used the News as an example in one of his seminars of a paper boxed in a little bitty spot in the county that had found a way to survive.”
“He saw it an unpardonable sin to misspell words and chewed blood from anyone who abused the English language.”
Louis E. Inglehart, interview by Frank G. Talbott Muncie, Ind., June 9, 1982.
“Stempel as a head of the Indiana University journalism department for many years was active in journalism accreditation. He tried to run a quality program. He did not try to stop other colleges from establishing good departments.”
“Also,” Inglehart said, “he had a wholesome attitude toward student publications.”
“Stempel believed in reading The New York Times daily, every line. He had an office subscription to The Times and intended to go through it daily. His office was full of stacks of New York Times. Others teased him about it but he stuck to his guns.”
“He was well liked by professional newspaper people.”
Robert Heintzelman, interview by Frank G. Talbott, Muncie, Ind., June 16, 1982.
“I knew Professor Stempel in late 1960 or 1961,” Heintzelman said. “I was a Wall Street Journal Fellow and attended a summer seminar at Indiana University. Stempel was serious and all business in the classroom, but he had us over to his home on Friday nights for cocktails. He was warm and sociable. He had a mammoth punchbowl set up in his home, a big beautiful white frame home near the campus. We would sit there and drink punch — it was a good hefty punch — and talk. Mrs. Stempel was a participant also with John.
Years later he helped me when I was adviser to the Indiana Intercollegiate Press Association. He was extremely interested in the journalistic careers of all his students. He was interested in journalism education as a whole.”