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Poynter was editor and publisher of the St. Petersburg Times from 1938 through 1978. He was a crusading journalist for good government and the rights of minorities and the poor and, through his example, elevated the standards for independent and innovative newspaper journalism.
Poynter was also a leader in exploring improvements in newspaper production and design. He founded the Poynter Institute for Media Studies to further his goals for editorial and academic excellence in newspaper journalism.