Walter Williams had little formal education before taking an apprentice job in a small-town newspaper print shop in 1875, but he would dedicate much of the rest of his life to journalism education and to establishing journalism as a profession.
Many editors and publishers of Williams’ day argued that journalists needed only the training they could get on the job. Williams believed journalists would never be fully respected unless they were educated as professionals in a school of journalism and their work met established professional standards.
“We cannot believe that any one who will weigh carefully the reasons for and against a school of journalism will decide against it,” he wrote in an 1897 editorial in The Country Editor. “To declare newspaper men need no education along the lines of their work is to put premium on ignorance and to assert that the less an editor knows the better fitted he is for his duties.”
After many failed attempts to create a journalism school at the University of Missouri, Williams decided to take the fight inside the university system. He was named to the Board of Curators in 1899, and in 1906 a committee of the board recommended creating the School of Journalism.
It had been a long battle, but in September 1908 the Missouri School of Journalism began, with Williams as dean. In a speech to the faculty, A. Ross Hill, president of the University, said, “The University of Missouri is the first in America to establish and organize a School of Journalism.
“I believe it is possible for this School to give dignity to the profession of journalism, to anticipate to some extent the difficulties that journalism must meet and to prepare its graduates to overcome them; to give prospective journalists a professional spirit and high ideals of service; to discover those with real talent for the work in the profession, and to discourage those who are likely to prove failures in the profession, and to give the State better newspapers and a better citizenship.”
Williams urged his students to think hard about the standards of their profession and required them to write a personal statement to which they would hold themselves accountable. In 1914 he wrote his own version, entitled “The Journalist’s Creed.”
Williams later became the university’s president, a position he held until his death in 1935. But his proudest achievements were founding the school that established journalism as a profession and writing the Creed that continues to inspire journalists everywhere.
(Information drawn from “A Creed for My Profession, Walter Williams, Journalists to the world by Ronald Farrar)