John M. Hightower attended UT in Knoxville from 1927 to 1929. During his first year at the University of Tennessee, the native of Coal Creek, Tennessee, (now Lake City) edited a campus magazine, but he had dreams of being a star reporter with a metropolitan newspaper. So after his sophomore year he moved to New York City to learn from experience.
By June of 1935 he was AP’s first Tennessee state editor. He was in Nashville for three years before he requested a transfer to New York. Instead he ended up at AP’s Washington, D.C. bureau.
He was “general staff” in Washington, and it was during World War II that Hightower received great commendation for his six-part series on the development of radar. By war’s end, he was the AP’s diplomatic editor. He wrote the lead story on the atomic bombing of Japan.
The Associated Press held Hightower and his work in such high esteem, the organization nominated him for the 1944 Pulitzer Prize. But it was his second nomination in 1952 that won him the Pulitzer. He was honored for his accurate and insightful international reporting of diplomatic affairs.
The Pulitzer committee particularly praised Hightower’s prophetic coverage of the course of truce negotiations in the Korean War and of the events that led to President Truman’s firing of General Douglas MacArthur, the Allied commander in Korea.
In addition to the Pulitzer, he was awarded two other top journalistic honors: the Raymond Clapper Memorial Award, from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Sigma Delta Chi Award, an annual citation of the national journalism society. He was the first person to earn those three major awards in the same year.
In 1964, he was named AP special correspondent. He retired from the organization after 34 years, taking a journalism teaching position at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and writing a column for the Santa Fe New Mexican.
He earned a Commander’s Cross and a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and was named to the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1980 Hightower was named to the Hall of Fame of the Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
He is a member of the University of Tennessee’s Academic Hall of Fame. He was named a Living Treasure in New Mexico in 1986, an honor given to those members of the community deemed role models who inspire with their hope, heart, and wisdom.
Hightower was married to Martha Joiner of New York City for 41 years. They had two sons and one daughter. He died in 1987.
Originally published on the School of Journalism and Electronic Media’s website.