September 22, 2008
Walter Williams (front row, second from left) with a University of Missouri journalism class in 1928. (University of Missouri Archives)

Walter Williams (front row, second from left) with a University of Missouri journalism class in 1928. (University of Missouri Archives)

First School of Journalism Turns 100

On Sept. 14, 1908, journalist Walter Williams began a new experiment — opening the world’s first college of journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Other universities followed suit. Indiana University established a journalism department in 1911; Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, endowed the journalism school that opened at New York’s Columbia University in 1912. By the 1920s, many other schools had added journalism curricula.

Before 1908, journalism was a learned-on-the-job trade. Many reporters started as copy boys and worked their way up. Some editors, most famously 19th-century New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, refused to hire university graduates because they were too hard to mold, according to Betty Winfield, editor of "Journalism, 1908: Birth of a Profession."

"Most journalism before 1900 was pretty dreadful," says Steve Weinberg, author of "A Journalism of Humanity: A Candid History of the World’s First Journalism School." "Journalism often was inaccurate and partisan."

In the early years, the debate raged: Was journalism a trade or an educated profession? The Progressive Era of the early 20th century brought a desire to professionalize and reform in many areas, including journalism. And the creation of the first journalism school solidified journalism’s place as a serious profession.

Missouri’s first female journalism graduate, Mary Gentry Paxton Keeley, received her degree in 1910. In 1921, the school’s first master’s degree in journalism was awarded to Maurice Votaw. Many well-known journalists have graduated from Missouri’s journalism school, including Jim Lehrer of PBS’s The News Hour With Jim Lehrer, ABC news anchor Elizabeth Vargas, USA Today editor Ken Paulson and CBS news anchor Russ Mitchell.

Although much has changed in the last century — such as the addition of courses in photojournalism, radio, television and new media — some of the courses offered 100 years ago sound much like classes still taught in journalism schools today. According to Winfield, the course catalog included classes in history and principles, press jurisprudence, illustration, news gathering and newspaper publishing.

Williams went on to write the famous Journalist’s Creed, which is still relevant to journalists today. The final paragraph reads:

"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."

The story about the first school of journalism is featured in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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