The Journalist’s Creed

Walter Williams, founder of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, penned this creed more than one century ago. When I first read this in full, only several months ago, I was soundly struck by the clarity and nobility of this statement. Its assertions are as important now as ever before, and make a useful guide to all who practice the trade of journalism, from the amateur to the professional.

Among his declarations, Williams says that a fear of God, along with national patriotism, mark the best kind of journalism. I was surprised to see this, given that I have never heard anything like this at the University of Missouri! However, the school does still see fit to present the creed in its entirety not only on its website but on a plaque in Neff Hall. The Missouri Press Association also boasts a large plaque bearing the creed on the outside of its building in The District (that’s downtown Columbia, Missouri to non-locals).

Verbatim memorization isn’t in vogue as a learning tool in most places these days, but most any media professional or social critic would benefit from knowing the following “principles, values and standards” by heart:

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

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