Self-examination as to whether we are living up to the basic principles of good journalism is in order since this month is the 75th anniversary of Miller family ownership of The Missourian. Whose principles should we judge ourselves as to whether we are living up to good journalism? We selected Walter Williams, who was the founder and first dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri (1908-1935).
Let’s start with public trust. “Trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than public service is betrayal of this trust,” Williams wrote. We’ve tried to keep public trust and service in mind in every issue and publication. B-plus is our grade.
“I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy, and fairness, are fundamental to good journalism.” — Williams. Our grade, B.
“I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.” — Williams. We deserve an A.
"I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than for the welfare of society, is indefensible.” — Williams. We get an A.
“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.” — Williams. Thoughtful B.
“I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard or helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.” — Williams. Since we believe strongly in public service and work to deliver it, we hesitate to give out an A, but we will.
"I believe that the journalism which succeeds — 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.” — Williams. Walter, that’s a mouthful! Because we are human, we qualify for a B.
Our overall grade, a B with reservations. That means, an A on some points, a C on other points, and a B-plus on some principles.
We are fully aware we need to improve in some areas of journalism. We know there are readers who will not agree with all the grades assigned.
We constantly are confronted by the fairness issue. We try to be fair. However, fairness is in the mind of the beholder. There are few issues in which there is general agreement on fairness. We don’t expect general agreement on the grades we assigned in our self-evaluation. Maybe we’ve been too generous. Maybe we haven’t been fair to our excellent staff in our grading.
We say there hasn’t been a single issue of The Missourian that could not have been improved. Our goal is to try to make the next issue better. Because the human element is involved, from the top on down, it is a never-ending task to seek improvement.