By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
When I bought the former home of Walter Williams in 2000, totally unaware of its illustrious past, the purchase changed my life.
Williams built his Federalist-style brick home in 1917 during his years as the founding Dean of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, founded in 1903, known world-wide as the first and best professional school of journalism. Williams, propagator of journalism schools globally and known as “the father of journalism education,” was the most famous American lecturing internationally after Mark Twain had begun (a fellow Missourian).
I enjoyed writing and had done my share for various publications since high school. But I had chosen architecture for my profession, providing architectural services for many neighbors in that college town, and raising my family of five just two blocks away in a new home of my own devices. But the Williams’ home seemed a world away from my quotidian life.
We are in a time of turmoil in the publishing world; newspapers are struggling to define how people get their news and to survive in their communities. A New York Times 6/29/20 business article by Ben Smith described one defining episode for journalism. It provided a reminder of the late 1800s world when Williams grew up in rural Missouri, and also of cities all across America at that time. Newspapers, broadsheets, and pamphlets were published by anyone who could put a printing press to work— often with libelous statements, false accusations, incitement to riot, condemnation of the law-abiding, and fictional accounts as common fodder in these “yellow rags” of news. (Sounds familiar?)
Editors and journalists like Williams needed to do something about that deplorable state of misinformation, and set about forming press organizations to pursue integrity in their ranks. First in Missouri, then nationally at conferences, they pieced together a set of principles to be shared with all their colleagues.
Here are highlights of the “The Journalist’s Creed” by Walter Williams, now taught at journalism schools in many countries.
“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 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 the WestView News publication honors these principles (updated for all genders). Which brings me back to that fateful day of moving into Walter Williams’ home. Both my wife and I were soon inspired to embark on new directions in our careers. She began her journey from local hospital nurse to nationally recognized health speaker and writer. I ramped up to organize and lead the historic preservation endeavors, promoting healthy architecture, walkable communities, and resource conservation. And then, to the opportunity to contribute to WestView News.
Inspired by the elegant restored house we moved into, or channeling the ghost of Walter Williams? Who knows how inspiration works?
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture.