A Journalist’s Creed, Examined

As journalists, the debate is ongoing: what are the universal values we should hold to? Beyond the obvious legal constraints that we must operate within, there’s no accreditation board for journalists— we are really only bound by institutional or cultural codes of ethics, which of course vary widely.  

Modern journalism has a lot to learn from Walter Williams, the first dean of the world’s first school of journalism at the University of Missouri in 1908. Today I’d like to break down his famous Journalist’s Creed and discuss what each part of it means for journalism today. Plaques bearing the creed are up in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. since 1958, as well as all over Mizzou’s campus. Below the bold sections are parts of the actual creed, and the italicized parts are my comments. The image at the bottom of the page is of a plaque bearing the creed near the building housing the Columbia Missourian newspaper.

My purpose in sharing this is to introduce you to the creed and get you thinking about journalistic codes of ethics.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

This may seem like a simple and uninteresting way to begin, but it’s actually rather a profound statement. Too often I hear people say, “Today, thanks to social media, everyone’s a journalist.” I think it’s easy to assume that a journalist’s job is to be be a fact-reporting robot, but in reality we must be thoughtful about what we produce and do so in a professional manner.

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