The Poynter Center was established in 1972 with funding from the late Nelson Poynter. An alumnus of Indiana University, Mr. Poynter was the chairman of the board of the Times Publishing Company, which publishes the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly.
Mr. Poynter's initial five-year gift was prompted by his concern about declining trust in public institutions. In 1976, Mr. Poynter presented the university with a second substantial gift, which endowed the Center and established it in perpetuity. The Center's work is supported by income from the endowment, funding from Indiana University, and contracts and grants from public and private agencies and foundations.
The founding director was William Lee Miller, who served from 1972-1982. David H. Smith served as director from 1982 until his retirement in 2003, when Richard B. Miller became director.
The Poynter Center directs it attention to the entire spectrum of American political and social institutions, drawing on the fullest resources of the university to carry out its work. The center's projects take a normative perspective. In recent years, the Poynter Center has focused on bioethics; professional ethics; religion, culture, and society; political ethics; research ethics, and teaching ethics in the sciences and humanities.