In 1955, TV newsman Chet Huntley was worried about the state of journalism. He decided to try to change his own behavior. We can adapt his resolutions to change ours.
Normally, I would hold this post until next December or January, when people have New Year’s resolutions in mind. But I’m impatient, and I won’t wait that long.
Chet Huntley was a nationally-known American television reporter and media personality in 1955. He watched many of his colleagues veering off course from journalism to opinionated commentary. Now, decades later, I see that trend repeating in our news media. Once-trusted reporters and deliverers of the news are giving us their opinions, without separating those views from the news.
Not only that, decision-makers and ordinary people of all kinds appear unskilled at separating opinion from fact.
It seems a good time to make note of the New Year’s resolutions Huntley made for himself to follow in 1955, as he expressed them in a radio broadcast on January 3 of that year. Some highlights:
- “To show some improvement this year in learning how to depreciate my own opinions.
- “To stop and think at least thirty minutes before offering one of my own opinions in a broadcast.
- “That if my own opinion must be used, to label it as just opinion with the biggest verbal sign or billboard I know how to make.
- “To remember, at least once a week, for the next fifty-two weeks, that Providence, unfortunately, did not endow me with complete wisdom or infallibility.
- “To practice faithfully throughout the coming year to learn how to utter those noble and refreshing words, ‘I was wrong,’ just in case that uncomfortable situation should arise.
- “To narrow down almost to infinity, or to keep at a minimum, the number of your fellow citizens to whom you would deny the privilege of being heard, if you had the power. Rather, to remember that they don’t deserve silencing — just answering.
- “To remember that ‘success’ in the profession of journalism is, to be sure, measured by your actual and potential rendering of service; but it’s also restrained by the fact that the bigger you are, the bigger and more serious your mistakes.
- “To live with the annoying proposition that a little insecurity may be good for a journalist.”
Huntley made a few other resolutions that year, but these are the most resonant now. They apply not only to journalists, but also to public servants, business leaders, parents, educators, and relatives. They apply to me and probably to you, too.