Indiana University, established in 1820 as a tiny seminary in Bloomington, eventually became one of the first state universities to teach journalism. Instruction began in 1893 with three students in the first class. Classes in writing and reporting were taught at intervals during the next few years, supplementing the students' liberal arts background in English, history, and economics.

A Department of Journalism was established in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1911, although students could not major in journalism until 1932. Professor Joseph Piercy was named as the first head of the department; he served until 1938. In 1911, the Department of Journalism took over administration of the Indiana Daily Student, the campus newspaper established in 1867 as a student-owned enterprise.

John E. Stempel followed Piercy as the head of the department. Under Stempel's leadership-from 1938 until his retirement in 1968-the program moved to its current building, Ernie Pyle Hall. In 1946, the High School Journalism Institute began, directed by Professor Gretchen Kemp. The institute continues today, offering programs each summer for students and their high school teachers.

Journalism began offering a master's degree in the 1920s and a doctoral degree in mass communication in 1966. The first Ph.D. was granted in 1971.

Richard G. Gray became chairman of the department in 1968. He led the program through a shift in the curriculum from a mainly professional orientation to one that balances instruction in the skills of writing, visual communication, reporting, and editing with instruction in the history, economics, law, responsibilities, and ethics of journalism. That core curriculum remains, although new technologies of mass communication and converging media have changed the mode of instruction and the content of some courses.

In 1968, the Indiana Daily Student was separated from the curriculum. The IDS and the Arbutus, the campus yearbook, became independent publications administered by a publisher selected by the journalism faculty.

After a national fundraising campaign, Ernie Pyle Hall was renovated in 1976. Faculty offices and classrooms took over the upstairs of the refurbished building, and a new library and the IDS dominated what once had been the pressroom on the ground floor.

In 1974, the department became a school, but remained within the College of Arts and Sciences. The school became systemwide in 1982, responsible for the coordination of journalism education on all eight campuses. Gray became dean and helped establish the undergraduate major on the Indianapolis campus, IUPUI. Under the leadership of Associate Dean James Brown at IUPUI, the school took over the administration of The Sagamore, the campus newspaper, and appointed its first publisher in 1985.

After the death of Gray in 1984, Trevor R. Brown became interim dean and was named dean the next year. In 1989, the school separated from the College of Arts and Sciences, becoming one of seven (with the addition of Informatics in 2001) independent academic schools on the Bloomington campus. Since 1990, students on both the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses enroll in the Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (B.A.J.) program. Following Trevor Brown's retirement in 2005, Bradley Hamm was appointed dean.