The school began on May 29, 1975, when Nelson Poynter, the owner and chairman of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and Times Publishing Company, announced that he planned to start a small journalism school called the Modern Media Institute. (The name of the school was changed to the Poynter Institute almost a decade later.)
In 1977, Nelson Poynter willed ownership of the Times Publishing Company to the Institute so that after his death the school would become the owner of the St. Petersburg Times. Poynter died on June 15, 1978, at the age of 74. He had become ill in his office just a few hours after he helped break ground for the new St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida.
At that point the Institute began to grow into the larger school that exists today. The current building and campus officially opened in December 1985.
News University, or NewsU, is a project of the Poynter Institute, offering newsroom training to journalists and journalism students through its interactive e-learning program and links to other journalist training opportunities. The program is a partnership between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Poynter Institute. Launched in April 2005, NewsU offers free self-directed courses, live "Webinars", and group online seminars.