What is the role of a journalist in modern society? Observer? Crusader? Advocate? Analyist? Teacher? Interpreter? Transcriber? Judge and Jury?
The second major newspaper in Detroit, the Detroit Evening News, began publication in 1873. It was the city’s dominant paper in 1917 when it commissioned architect Albert Kahn to design its new building at Lafayette and Fort Streets. Ninety years later that building and the paper it houses are still there.
The News also has the distinction of signing on the nation’s first newspaper-owned radio station 8MK, on August 20, 1922. That station later became WWJ. WWJ-AM gave birth to WWJ-TV. I worked there in the early 70s, and again in the late 70s when it had been sold to the Washington Post and rechristened WDIV-TV.
Our newsroom was headquartered on the third floor of the huge old WWJ radio building, across the street from the Evening News. From a third-floor stairwell at the back of the newsroom you could get a clear view of the higher floors of the News building, and the inscriptions carved into the parapet on top. Each panel lists three attributes of the ideal newspaper.
Forget Charles Foster Kane and his “Declaration of Principles” in Citizen Kane. A 1922 book says, “The inscriptions on the parapet, of which Prof. F.N. Scott, of the University of Michigan, is the author…express the ideal of the newspaper housed therein and the goal towards which it strives. "
Mirror of the Public Mind… Interpreter of the Public Intent… Troubler of the Public Conscience
Reflector of Every Human Interest… Friend of Every Righteous Cause… Encourager of Every Generous Act
Bearer of Intelligence… Dispeller of Ignorance and Prejudice… A Light Shining Into All Dark Places
Promoter of Civic Welfare and Civic Pride… Bond of Civic Unity… Protector of Civic Rights
Scourge of Evil Doers… Exposer of Secret Inequities… Unrelenting Foe of Privilege and Corruption
Voice of the Lonely and Oppressed… Advocate of Friendliness… Righter of Public and Private Wrongs
Chronicler of Facts… Sifter of Rumors and Opinions… Minister of the Truth that Makes Men Free
Reporter of the New… Remembrancer of the Old and Tried… Herald of What is to Come
Defender of Civil Liberty… Strengthener of Loyalty… Pillar and Stay of Democratic Government
Upholder of the Home… Nourisher of the Community Spirit… Art, Letters and Science of the Common People
"Scourge of Evil Doers." I like that. How about "A Light Shining Into All dark Places?" I like that one, too. If that has a familiar ring to it, it's because the News was founded by James E. Scripps, the half-brother of Edward W. Scripps. The Scripps-Howard motto, carried forward to the E. W. Scripps Company and its newspaper, TV and cable empire remains, "Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way."
David Brinkley used to say that it's easy to mistake journalists for liberals, because in their heart of hearts both have the same dream: to ride in on a white horse and save the world.
Tell me. Is Bill O'Reilly the "Dispeller of Ignorance and Prejudice?" Is Rush Limbaugh an "Advocate of Friendliness?"