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Colonel Joseph M. Murphy

CSPA founder and first director (1924-1969)

As the director and founder of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) from 1924 to 1969, Colonel Murphy built it into the nation's largest school press organization.

During his 45-year tenure, the organization sponsored annual conventions, which attracted more than 216,000 student delegates and provided written evaluations for 109,000 student newspapers, yearbooks and magazines. The Association is sponsored by Columbia University.

In a Presidential Certificate of Distinction conferred by Columbia University on the occasion of the Association’s 50th Anniversary in 1974, Murphy was commended for “a lifetime of service. It further noted that Col. Murphy built the CSPA “into the most renowned national organization devoted to the training and guidance of young student editors and their advisers throughout the country.” The citation further noted that “It was in Col. Murphy’s CSPA programs that hundreds of the nation’s working journalists and communications industry leaders were first inspired and motivated to excel.”

Except for his World War II service with the Army Air Force, Col. Murphy was the director of the CSPA for 45 years, from its founding in 1924 till his retirement in 1969. He was named director emeritus by the Trustees of the University in 1967. From 1969 to 1979 he continued as an active consultant to the CSPA, editing its journal, The School Press Review, which he founded in 1925.

In 1924, while a student at Teachers College, Murphy was asked to organize a group of high schools from the New York City area. The group had been meeting, on their own initiative each spring at Columbia to discuss common problems in publishing school papers. Murphy established a permanent organization, created a contest with 179 awards for student publications, and launched the spring convention, which drew 308 delegates in March of 1925.

For years, the organization of CSPA programs was virtually a one-man operation. During his directorship, Colonel Murphy was the sole full-time person in the Association’s office on the Columbia campus and selected part-time assistants from among Columbia College students. With his unusual capacity for work, Col. Murphy handled a vast amount of correspondence with schools and publications from all over the country.

For the annual conventions, he recruited about 200 editors, reporters, publishers, educators, and others in related professions to address the young audiences and lead discussions. For many years, the convention concluded with a major address by persons such as Eleanor Roosevelt;  Harry Truman; Dwight Eisenhower; Hubert Humphrey; Edward R. Murrow; and Fred Friendly. Murphy, a native of Boston, earned both a B.S. from Teachers College and a M.A. in history from Columbia in 1925, followed by further study at the University. He taught in New England high schools, at Hunter College, and at Columbia. In addition to his CSPA work, he was also a Columbia admissions officer, adviser to veterans, administrator of a lecture series, and officer of a University extension program. Despite these other activities, the CSPA remained his most cherished project.

He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Arnold College (now part of the University of Bridgeport) in Connecticut in 1942.

Murphy entered the Army Air Force in World War II and later rose to the rank of colonel. His military work was primarily in education; he was the education officer for the military governments of Italy and Austria during and after the war.

He was made Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory the Great, by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in recognition of his work to rehabilitate schools and religious institutions in postwar Vienna in 1945-1946. That work led to a number of other honors from foreign governments and organizations.

Recalled to active duty in the Air Force, he was named to a committee of officers who planned the creation of the Air Force Academy. He edited two volumes dealing with the Academy's administration and curriculum.

National and state press associations have honored Col. Murphy for his many contributions to scholastic journalism. In 1972, Murphy was the first person named to the Scholastic Journalism Hall of Fame at the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism.

Upon Col. Murphy’s passing, past CSPA Executive Director Edmund J. Sullivan penned the following remembrance:

By Edmund J. Sullivan, Executive Director of the Association, 1981-2022

As Director of the CSPA from 1925 to 1969 and as editor of The School Press Review from 1925 to 1979, the Colonel exerted a pioneering influence on scholastic journalism. Thousands of student editors benefited from his unceasing and selfless efforts on their behalf. Some of them decided to pursue journalism as a profession, stimulated by participation in the conventions and contests that he created and managed during a half century of leadership of the Association.

Despite many opportunities, he never tried to “sell” journalism as the preferred career objective for most student journalists. Beginning life as a history teacher in a rural Massachusetts high school, he preserved the lessons of that early experience throughout a lifelong devotion to student journalists.

Murphy believed that their education as citizens came first; career goals should be their decision, made after their high school education was complete. But his persistent and unstinting efforts to perfect the national organization which he founded helped recognize the contribution of journalism in the education of those young citizens. It was fitting that Murphy's was the lead obituary in The New York Times on the day following his death.

He repeatedly declined to label student journalism as “journalism education,” since he believed the two were distinct. For Col. Murphy, student journalists practiced journalism without making a lifelong commitment to the profession. One of the goals he enunciated for the CSPA was to “preserve [student journalism] as avocational for the many.”  Journalism education was left to college instruction in journalism, as the first formal step in preparing for a career in journalism. Armed with this perspective, he enlisted the help of advisers to all types of student publications, from elementary school through high school.

His sense of the school press as an embattled grassroots operation remained with Murphy throughout his career. It deeply influenced his concept of what was proper for the school press in general, and the CSPA in particular. Writing in The School Press Review in 1946, he noted,

“The school newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks have earned their positions by hard and laborious work. They have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and have overcome obstacles that few other activities have had to meet. They have been aided and strengthened by the school press associations but, it must be noted, these organizations were developed to combat from an outside vantage point the things that were troubling the papers within the schools. The local and national groups gave force and substance to the individual papers and formulated policies and a sense of direction which the publications have followed since.”

Murphy never wavered in his belief that the adviser was the keystone to the school press movement. Without the instruction and guidance only the adviser could offer, he believed student journalists would be the poorer.

But behind the scenes is the ever-present adviser who constitutes the backbone of the individual publications, of the press associations and of the movement as a whole. Had it not been for the loyal and conscientious adherence of these people to an ideal, prompted and urged on by a sincere and compelling affection for work with all kinds of student periodicals, both the publications and the press associations would have collapsed.

This Association is his living legacy. It helps to preserve Murphy's vision of the school press as “an instrument published by students, for students, and containing news concerning students, and student activities.” The CSPA was to be supportive of the student press and was “to encourage and aid the organization of local groups of advisers and student editors.” The Association still emphasizes good writing and clear expression as the basis for work with student publications. The CSPA still adheres to Murphy's vision of the school press as “a means in the educational development of youth.”

Finally, his contribution to the school press was always made through Columbia University. Upon his death, the University’s oldest surviving President Emeritus, Dr. Grayson Kirk, said of Murphy’s service to Columbia: “He was a man extremely devoted to a very useful activity at the University. He loved young people and was enormously successful in his activity, which annually brought a large number of young people to the University.”

For as long as the CSPA exists, it will remain a fitting monument to the vision and dedication of Joseph Maurice Murphy. We hope to remain worthy of his trust.