100 articles – ‘The Journalist’s Creed’

2 June 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

The Journalist’s Creed’ by Walter Williams

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

Walter Williams, first Dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, 1908.

Williams’ creed was a declaration of values and principles: a mission statement for the world’s first school of journalism.  

Today his words are engraved on a plaque within the school building. In those halls students will learn the journalism profession is in crisis, they’ll read articles crying out for innovative ideas to save our dying art. Journalism students walk by that plaque every day on their way to class: I wonder how many stop to ponder Williams’ statement.

His words on public accountability, writing for ‘the best interests of the readers’ and the need for a journalist to report ‘only what he holds in his heart to be true’, would surely ring a bell. Isn’t his call for ‘a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world’ even more relevant in 2010 than it was 100 years ago?

When we argue over new vs old media, when news organisations cling to ‘new business models’ in a desperate bid to keep afloat, when we lament the loss of quality journalism; surely this is what we’re all crying out for. A journalism for the people living today; a journalism that fits into our world; a journalism with the public interest at its heart.

Students entering those halls will spend endless hours learning what supposedly defines a modern journalist and thousands of dollars on books which tell them how to “make it” as a journalist. I can’t help wondering if they learn all they need to know reading that plaque.

Sarah Green is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University.

More on the ‘100 articles’ project, including the list so far, can be found here.