The Journalist’s Creed Then and Now – From Williams to Woodward

Thousands of journalists inspired by Watergate and the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein learned their craft at the University of Missouri. They also learned the Journalist’s Creed, written in 1908 by Dean Walter Williams and which today still stands as a manifesto for journalistic principle and purpose. It reads:

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.”

Last week, Bob Woodward, the father and former standard-bearer of modern investigative journalism, issued his own "creed" of sorts. In describing his involvement in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation, Woodward said:

I hunkered down.

I’m in the habit of keeping secrets.

I didn’t want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed.

Ninety-five years, two creeds — and one sad comment on the state of mainstream journalism today.




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2 Responses to The Journalist’s Creed Then and Now – From Williams to Woodward

  1. MnMnM says:

    Grand Jury testimony of longtime Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, leaked by Rove-ing reporter (humor).
    It is posted at: Bob Woodward Tells Grand Jury Who Leaked First
    Bobbing and weaving, a tangled web we do. Book him, Danno.
    Please keep my identity a secret. Double super Secret.
    Middle-aged, Middle-of-the-road, Mid-Westerner
    We can only hope that Fitz doesn’t fizzle.
    I think Mr. Fitzpatrick’s motto should be: “If you do a white collar crime then you will serve blue collar time.” Look where he lodged Judith Miller. A few months in a blue collar jail and she was ready to sing. Unfortunately, she says she forgot the words

  2. And thank you for your retort (measuring bloggers by legacy journalistic standards)

    In which musings on the role of blogger-journalists morph (in the comments) into musings on the late David Rufkahr (a/k/a “Frank Bartles”), originally inspired by tired musings on the “debate” over press releases, which led to musings on the role of no…

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