The Journalist’s Creed is a document written by Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. Gender-specific pronouns aside, this is one of the most important manifestos ever written about journalism. In fact, it’s worth revisiting with a few annotations. The Creed is in Bold.
The Journalist’s Creed
I believe in the profession of journalism. Before journalism became a paid profession, it was a moonlight hobby. Many writers had jobs in politics and government, creating natural conflicts of interest. Having full-time journalists ensures excellence and intelligence.
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. The journalist is betrothed to their readers; the very nature of our industry outlines our responsibility to protect and preserve the public good.
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism. Naturally.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true. Many journalists will tell you they cannot write things that are not true, and many more have resigned to protect these stout personal values. This is the mark of a great journalist.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible. Democracy cannot function without the checks of the 4th Estate.
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. This echoes a previous point. Journalists should be fully and deeply committed to their ethical values. To corrupt the public trust with bribery and excuses is to betray the responsibility of our industry.
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. This outlines standards for the relationships between advertising, opinion and editorial, but notice it doesn’t define that relationship for publications. How much of a public service does your publication provide?
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. This needs no interpretation. As you go forward, let the lessons of Walter Williams echo in your work, and someday you may be a journalist as great as he. Wise shall be the bearers of light.