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About journalism

...a compilation of quotes that you may or may not find in any other collection.


Advertising and the news

Business of news

Censorship

Columnists

Editorial writers

Editors

Ethics

Freedom of the press

Government and Press

Journalists

The News

Newspapers

Obituaries

Press cards

Prizes

Public opinion

Publishers

Pundits

Reporters

Tabloid newspapers

Television news

United Press

Writing

Updated July 6, 2001

Advertising and the news

The enemies of a newspaper are its best advertisers -- if it's an honest newspaper.

--James Keeley, editor, Chicago Tribune

The mechanics and spirit of a capitalistic press and radio are both comical and beautiful today [Dec. 7, 1941]. The first words I heard after the news came of Japan's attack in Hawaii were: "Give Mother foot comfort for Christmas." It was in the voice we all know so well--as though the speaker had marshmallows in place of tonsils--but it had that thoroughly cockeyed quality for which in the long run we are fighting. It makes a man suddenly realize his strange and wonderful indebtedness to the cosmetic industry and the tobacco trade and all the rest that are supplying us with capsules of news every few minutes.

--E.B. White, "Intimations," One Man's Meat, p. 224.

There is a huge difference between journalism and advertising. Journalism aspires to truth. Advertising is regulated for truth. I'll put the accuracy of the average ad in this country up against the average any time.

--Jef I. Richards

Contents

Business of news

Perhaps all of you are raking in the profits...but let me throw down a challenge: what's the point of having all this money if we are simply going to drive ourselves into the ground? Makes you wonder about all those mega-mergers. Yes, you are running businesses but surely there is a level beyond which profit from news is simply indecent. We live in a society after all, not a marketplace. News is part of our communal experience...a public service. Surely a news operation should be the crown jewel of any corporation...the thing that makes a corporation feel good about itself. We all love "Millionaire," make your money off that....make your super-dollars somewhere else. Leave us alone, with only good competitive journalism as our benchmark. I know I do not need to remind you of all the quality programs that make money too...60-minutes, Nightline...are just a couple.

No matter what the hocus-pocus focus groups tell you, time has proven that all the gimmicks and cheap journalism can only carry you so far. Remember the movie "Field of Dreams" when the voice said, "Build it and they will come." Well, tell a compelling story and they will watch.

--Christiane Amanpour, 2000 RTNDA Convention

In October, when New Times Inc. and Village Voice Media agreed to a journalistic double homicide - killing off alternative papers in L.A. and Cleveland to give each other monopolies in those cities - the U.S. press hardly raised an eyebrow. It took the Justice Department to sound the alarm. Justice has mounted what looks like a serious antitrust investigation. When editorial voices are snuffed out, a staff member for one of those papers told the Los Angeles Times, "it's not good for the democratic process. Nobody can argue that the problem with American journalism is that it has too many voices."

We agree. Now, will someone please deliver that message to the Federal Communications Commission? And is it too much to ask the press to be the messenger?

--The Silence of the Lambs: Who Speaks for Journalism Before the FCC?,
commentary in Columbia Journalism Review, January-February 2003

[The] first step toward stopping the takeover of both content and distribution of information was taken because enough of the audience got sore and made it an issue. I'm proud of the part played by The New York Times, which not only ran my diatribes but front-paged the illuminating coverage by Stephen Labaton, including his note that the Times Company was lobbying for cross-ownership.

No thanks go to the biggest media, where CBS's "60 Minutes," NBC's "Dateline" and ABC's "20/20" found the rip-off of the public interest by their parent companies too hot to handle. Most network newscasts dutifully covered the scandalous story as briefly and coolly as possible, failing to disclose how much it meant to their parent companies, which were lobbying furiously for gobble-up rights.

--Big Media's Silence, William Safire, The New York Times, June 26, 2003

Censorship

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

--John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

--Thomas Paine, Dissertations on First Principles of Government

It is not the idea as such which the censor attacks, whether it be heresy or radicalism or obscenity. He attacks the circulation of the idea among the classes which in his judgment are not to be trusted with the idea.

--Walter Lippman, "The Nature of the Battle Over Censorship," Men of Destiny, p. 98

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

--Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Every man -- in the development of his own personality -- has the right to form his own beliefs and opinions. Hence, suppression of belief, opinion and expression is an affront to the dignity of man, a negation of man's essential nature."

--Thomas Emerson, Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment


Contents

Columnists

There are, of course, many kinds of columns. Some are a stimulant to make readers think, others a sedative to put them to sleep. The most popular are those that give advice to the lovelorn or explain how to cook a seven-course meal in fifteen minutes or where to get a good French dinner for $3.95. In contrast, political columns, puncturing official windbags, are not welcome, particularly in Washington, the windmill capital of the universe.

I thought of my column as a letter to an absent friend. Since he couldn't be around to sort out all the mysterious contradictions coming out of Washington, I was his self-appointed legman. And since it wasn't always easy to tell when the administration was telling the truth and when it was watering the milk, I consulted the best informed characters I could find about the latest lies and exaggerations in circulation, and sent along their conclusions to my imaginary friend.

--James Reston, Deadline, p. 368.

Most newspaper readers do not read columnists, and my guess is that 75 percent of my readers disagree with 75 percent of what I write. That is fine: it means the audience is opinionated, in need of instruction and capable of enjoying aggravation if it is inflicted with some felicity.

--George Will, Washington Post, Dec. 18, 1983

Contents

Editorial writers

''A dull and cautious editorial or a strong one on a banal issue are of no help to anyone.''

--Howard K. Smith, quoted in his New York Times obituary, February 19, 2002

There is a little Mussolini in every editorial writer. Pompous, meddlesome, pretentious, a figure of fun to everyone but himself . . . issuing grandiose orders that have no effect on anything at all. . . . To which an ungrateful nation will reply, "Oh, knock it off."

--Meg Greenfield, quoted in her obituary, Washington Post, May 13, 1999.

Contents

Editors

Writers are a dime a dozen, Thurber. What I want is an editor. I can't find editors. Nobody grows up. Do you know English?

-- New Yorker editor Harold Ross to James Thurber, The Years With Ross.

What! remove a postmaster for shooting an editor? I ought to promote him.

--President U.S. Grant, quoted in Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Press Gang.

It is a fundamental principle of the operation of newspapers that all decisions, particularly personnel decisions, are delivered at the most local level. Under this principle, the managing editor, for instance, never appears to tell the city editor how to use his reporters.

If it were not for that, the reporters--who instinctively seek the highest authority--would come to the managing editor instead of the city editor to complain that their assignments were not suited to their talents or that their copy was being raped. And of the hundred reasons it's better to be a managing editor than a city editor, avoiding discussions of raped copy is near the top of the list.

--Pete Dexter, The Paperboy, p. 21.

I hate columnists! Why do I have all of these columnits? I have political columnists, guest columnists, celebrity columnists. The only thing I don't have is dead columnists, and that's the kind I could really use. We reek of opinions, Henry.

--Editor Bernie White (Robert Duvall) to Metro Editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), in The Paper

Columnist? You're a reporter who writes long.

--Metro Editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) to McDougal (Randy Quaid), in The Paper

Contents

Ethics

The principal moral responsibility for the proper use of the media of social communication falls on newsmen, writers, actors, designers . . . and all others who play any part in the production and transmission of mass presentations. It is quite evident what gravely important responsibilities they have in the present day when they are in a position to lead the human race to good or to evil by informing or arousing mankind.

--Inter Mirifica, Decree on the Media of Social Communication, Vatican Council II


The first duty of a newspaper is to be accurate. If it be accurate, it follows that it is fair.

--Herbert Bayard Swope, editor, New York World, Letter to New York Herald Tribune, March 16, 1958

Contents

Freedom of the Press

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

--Article I, Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America

...when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.

--Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Abrams v. U S, 250 U.S. 616 (1919)

Thus we consider this case [Times v. Sullivan] against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

--Justice William J. Brennan, N.Y. Times Company v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. Reports 254

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

-- Justice William J. Brennan, Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

In the nature of things, a person engaged in the flimsy business of expressing himself on paper is dependent on the large general privilege of being heard. Any intimation that this privilege may be revoked throws a writer into a panic. His is a double allegiance to freedom-- an intellectual one springing from the conviction that pure thought has a right to function unimpeded, and a selfish one springing from his need, as a breadwinner, to be allowed to speak his piece.

--E.B. White, "Salt Water Farm," One Man's Meat, p. 34.

It is freedom of speech and freedom of thought which have made all questions popular questions.

--Walter Lippman, "H.L.Mencken, Men of Destiny, p. 66.

For publishers and broadcasters to wrap themselves in the American flag and insist that the provisions of the United States Constitution exempt them from the rules of business conduct devised by our lawmakers with the support of the courts is a perversion of the intent of the First Amendment.

--Howard Rusk Long, Grassroots Editor, 9:4 (July-August, 1968), 2.

The press seems to think that it can say what it wishes, do what it wishes, invade privacy where it wishes, because it is possessed of a noble mandate. Yet it also seems to think it can act with precisely the same motives as any other business, even if such a marketing philosophy completely negates the "mission" which supposedly justifies its behavior.

I don't believe that kind of doublethink can long endure. I don't believe the public will buy that kind of doublethink; and I don't believe a free press can assert the privileges of a divinely protected priesthood while acting as a carnival barker without undermining its own critically important constitutional freedoms.

--Jeff Greenfield, "'A Decent Respect,'" in The Responsibilities of Journalism, p. 56.

Contents

Government and Press

A statesman is an easy man, he tells his lies by rote.
A journalist invents his lies, and rams them down your throat.
So stay at home and drink your beer and let the neighbors vote.


--William Butler Yeats

The Associated Press first wants to place on the record its deep concern about the nature and scope of the [House Committee on Energy and Commerce] inquiry [hearing, Election Night 2000 Coverage by the Networks, Feb. 14, 2001] into decisions made by journalists in the course of gathering and reporting the news.

Chairman [Billy] Tauzin [Rep., La.] has stated in correspondence with executives of Voter News Service and the networks that there are "potential First Amendment issues raised by the nature of this inquiry."

We agree with the Chairman's assessment. There certainly are.

AP has serious doubts that the Committee and its staff, no matter how sensitive they may be, can avoid crossing the line between appropriate government concern with the electoral process itself and, on the other hand, inappropriate government involvement with the reporting on that process by a free press.

To put it more plainly, we believe that such an official government inquiry into essentially editorial matters is inconsistent with the First Amendment values that are fundamental to our society. That is said with conviction, but without disrespect to the important role -- important but critically different from that of the media -- played by both legislative and executive branches of government.

I respect you. As a citizen, I benefit from what you do. But your job is different from mine, and a hearing such as this one confuses the two.

We agree that there were serious shortcomings -- call them terrible mistakes -- in the election reporting of November 7 and 8 and that these mistakes cannot be allowed to happen again.

But fixing them is a job for the nation's editors and news directors, not its legislators.

What we report and when we report it are matters between us and the audience we try to serve, not matters between us and our Congressman.

--Lou Boccardi, president and CEO, Associated Press,
opening statement, House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing,
Election Night 2000 Coverage by the Networks, Feb. 14, 2001.

We timed it so you wouldn't be able to ask questions.


--George W. Bush, at the end of a press briefing on Air Force One

Contents

Journalists

Not everyone realizes that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar. This is particularly true when we recollect that it has to be written on the spot, to order, and that it must create an immediate effect, even though it is produced under completely different conditions from that of scholarly research. It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.

--Max Weber

The best newspapermen I know are those most thrilled by the daily pump of city room excitements; they long fondly for a 'good murder'; they pray that assassinations, wars, catastrophes, break on their editions.

--Pete Hammil, quoted on Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, June 24, 2004

Journalism is an act of seduction. . . . And journalism, in the end, is always an act of betrayal.

--Mayhill Fowler, Huffington Post, June 25, 2010

Ironically, it was a movie that propelled me into journalism. I was 12 years old when I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, a black and white 1940 creaky of patriotism and equally black humour in which Joel McCrea played an American reporter called John Jones - renamed Huntley Haverstock by his New York editor - who is sent in 1939 to cover the approaching war in Europe. He witnesses an assassination, chases Nazi spies in Holland, uncovers Germany's top agent in London, is shot down in an airliner by a German pocket battleship and survives to scoop the world. He also wins the most gorgeous woman in the movie, clearly an added bonus for such a exciting profession.

--Robert Fisk, Carleton University convocation address, June 11, 2004

I wish that I could . . . report that journalism has been born again and all is well. But I cannot do that.

It continues at times to embarrass me, to annoy me, anger me even occasionally. The causes of my concern are out there for all to see, of course -- a tendency of journalism to be something akin to professional wrestling, something to watch rather than to believe. The savagery of some of the so-called new journalism, marked by predatory stake-outs, coarse invasions of privacy, talk show shouting, no-source reporting and other techniques, the stunning new blurring of the old lines between straight news, analysis and opinion.

A most unjustified arrogance that seems to have afflicted some of my colleagues. It can be seen in a stench of contempt in their approach, words, sneers and body language that say loud and clear, "Only the journalists of America are pure enough to judge all others.

--Jim Lehrer, anchor, The News Hour, commencement address, Tufts University, 2001

 

I decided when I was 12 that I didn't want to work for a living. I wanted to be a newspaperman.

--Milt Sosin, Miami News and AP reporter

The ideal newspaper man is a man who never forgets which side of the footlights he's on, who never forgets that he is a reporter, . . . not a mover and shaker.

--James Russell Wiggins, former editor, Washington Post

[T]he cardinal premise of all journalism . . . is that a cat may look at a king.


--Louis Menand, The New Yorker, Nov. 6, 2000

Are the reporters or are the persons quoted by the reporters the real journalists? Both are; both have important control over the useful knowledge that is communicated to a public. The former are full-time journalists; the latter are occasional journalists. But all are journalists.

Journalists are not only those who own or are employed by the media of mass communications. All those who provide journalistic knowledge--including some free lance writers, public relations practitioners, advertisers, participants in call-in shows, writers of letters to the editor--belong in that category. To ignore this is to misunderstand the true nature of journalism.

--Warren G. Bovée, Discovering Journalism, p. 62

Journalists are fascinating people because, for better or worse, you all fall within the 95th percentile of intelligence but are sort of traditionally underpaid, because you are doing something you really like to do -- as opposed to doing something you have to pay people to do. At the same time, you are exposed on a daily basis to foibles and idiosyncrasies of people who are making a lot more money. So my take on journalists is that most of you guys are pissed off about that.

--Dick Wolf, creator of NBC's Deadline

One of the most interesting things about journalists to me is that, for people who make a living out of kind of psychoanalyzing people and tearing them new orifices, they are extremely sensitive when the scrutiny is turned upon them. And that, to me, is very, very interesting, and something we plan to harness.

--Oliver Platt, star of NBC's Deadline

It is our intent to purify journalism in this town by instructing those writers as it is worth while to instruct, and assassinating those that it is not.

--Ambrose Bierce

Contents

The News

I read the news today oh boy....

--John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "A Day in the Life"

People can get their news any way they want. What I love about what's happened is that there are so many different avenues, there are so many different outlets, so many different ways to debate and discuss and to inquire about any givennews story.

--Jim Lehrer

News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead. We're paid to supply news. If someone else has sent the story before us, our story isn't news.

--Corker to William Boot, in Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, p. 91.

If news is a kind of practical knowledge, it can exist only where knowledge itself can exist: in the minds of human beings. News never exists in events or in situations. We may refer to some events or situations as news events or news situations, but not as news.

--Warren G. Bovée, Discovering Journalism, p. 41.

It's not enough any more to give 'em just news. They want comics, contests, puzzles. They want to know how to bake a cake, win friends, and influence the future. Ergo, horoscopes, tips on the horses, interpretation of dreams so they can win on the numbers lottery. And, if they accidentally stumble on the first page...news!

--Editor Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) in Deadline U.S.A.

I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog.

--Reporter Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) in The Big Carnival

The news goes on for 24 hours a day.

--Publisher Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) in Citizen Kane

Oh, boy!

--Walter Cronkite, reporting the landing of the first men on the moon, July 20, 1969

And that's the way it is.

--Walter Cronkite, sign-off of the CBS Evening News

Contents

Newspapers


The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villanous, licentious, abominable, infernaló Not that I ever read them! No, I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.

--Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Critic, Act I, Sc. 2.

 

We must have something to eat, and the papers to read. Everything else we can give up.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Bread and the Newspaper"


Don't you want a paper, dearie?


Read it through and through.


Tales of war and tales of money,


Things that people do;


Tales of lovers true forever,


Just like me and you!


Look a little closer, dearie,


That's in the paper too.


--Paul West and Jerome Kern, Don't You Want a Paper, Dearie?

The newspaper is dying. I'm not sure there will be newspapers and its one business I'd never be in.

--Sumner Redstone


The newspaper is the natural enemy of the book, as the whore is of the decent woman.


--Edmond De Goncourt

The secret of a successful newspaper is to take one story each day and bang the hell out of it. Give the public what it wants to have and part of what it ought to have whether it wants it or not.

--Herbert Bayard Swope


The simultaneous reactions elicited all over the world by the reading of newspaper dispatches about the same events create, as it were, a common mental pulse beat for the whole of civilized mankind.

--Christian Lous Lange


A newspaper is a private enterprise owing nothing whatever to the public, which grants it no franchise. It is therefore affected with no public interest. It is emphatically the property of the owner, who is selling a manufactured product at his own risk.

--William Peter Hamilton, publisher, The Wall Street Journal, quoted in Elie Abel, "Hutchins Revisited: Thirty-Five Years of Social Responsibility Theory," in The Responsibilities of Journalism, p. 43.

You know what people use these for? They roll them up and swat their puppies for wetting on the rug -- they spread them on the floor when they're painting the walls -- they wrap fish in them -- shred them up and pack their two-bit china in them when they move -- or else they pile up in the garage until an inspector declares them a fire hazard!

But this also happens to be a couple of more things! It's got print on it that tells stories that hundreds of good men all over the world have broken their backs to get. It gives a lot of information to a lot of people who wouldn't have known about it if we hadn't taken the trouble to tell them. It's the sum total of the work of a lot of guys who don't quit. It's a newspaper, that's all. Well, you're right for once, stupid. And it only costs 10 cents, that's all. But if you only read the comic section or the want ads -- it's still the best buy for your money in the world. I'm sorry to see you go, Collins. Here -- you'll probably want something to read on your way home.

--City Editor Jim Bathgate (William Conrad) to copy boy Earl Collins (David Nelson), who has just quit, in the movie --30--

The [city room of the New York Post] was more exciting to me than any movie: an organized chaos of editors shouting from desks, copyboys dashing through doors into the composing room, men and women typing at big manual typewriters, telephones ringing, the wire service tickers clattering, everyone smoking and putting butts out on the floor. I remembered the day I saw Dan Parker walking out of the Daily Mirror building and the newspapermen hurrying to the bars of Third Avenue. They'd all come from a place like this. But this wasn't a rag like the Mirror; this was the Post, the smartest, bravest tabloid in New York, my paper. All these men and women were doing work that was honorable, I thought, work that added to the ideals and intelligence of the world. I wanted desperately to be one of them.

--Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life, p. 217.

I read the newspapers with lively interest. It is seldom that they are absolutely, point-blank wrong. That is the popular belief, but those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl, round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament.

--Mr. Baldwin to William Boot, Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, p. 243.

A newspaper is like a church: it is built by ordinary sinners, people who in their individual lives are often petty and corrupt, but who collectively create an institution that transcends themselves. A newspaper in that way achieves a kind of divinity. It embodies the quest of its reporters and editors for an absolute--the truth. What is holy about a newspaper is the struggle of those imperfect human beings to connect with something perfect.

--David Ignatius, A Firing Offense, p. 300.

 

Th'newspaper does ivirything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward.

­Finley Peter Dunne (Mr. Dooley), "Newspaper Publicity."

 

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

--H. L. Mencken

Contents

Obituaries

A good obit has all the characteristics of a well-focused snapshot, the fuller the length the better. It does not disclose everything, yet it conveys a vivid and accurate impression. If the snapshot is clear, the viewer gets a quick fix on the subject, his attainments, his shortcomings, and his times. Composing the snapshot is much easier said than done; it takes time, patience, digging, and, finally, a certain skill with words.

--Alden Whitman, Come to Judgment, xiv-xv.


Contents

Press cards

This [press card] is what you make of it. It can be so much cardboard or a ringside seat to history. One thing it's not is a license to bore people.

--United Press bureau chief to 17-year-old Robert Musel, who would have a distinguished half-century career with the news service.

I still have my first press card, from the sadly defunct Asheville Times, slowly becoming a fossilized sedimentary layer in an old wallet. The only times I ever produced it were to wow babes in bars -- the glamor of the profession, you know.

--Mike Sharsky, BONG Bull 515.

Contents

Prizes

My idea [in endowing the Pultizer Prize] is to recognize that journalism is, or ought to be, one of the great and intellectual professions; to encourage, elevate, and educate in a practical way the present and, still more, future members of that provession, exactly as if it were the profession of law or medicine.

--Joseph Pulitzer

At certain times each year, we journalists do almost nothing except apply for the Pulitzers and several dozen other major prizes. During those times you could walk right into most newsrooms and commit a multiple ax murder naked, and it wouldn't get reported in the paper because the reporters and editors would all be too busy filling out prize applications. "Hey!" they'd yell at you. "Watch it! You're getting blood on my application."

--Dave Barry, Miami Herald, Mar. 29, 1987 (Pulitzer Prize winner, 1988)

Prizes are a consuming interest of newspaper people, particularly Pulitzer Prizes. They are as consuming as the World Series or natural disasters or national elections.

--Pete Dexter, The Paperboy, p. 289.

Contents

Public opinion

The prime purpose of public opinion is to enlighten the prudence of the governors.

--Warren G. Bovée, Discovering Journalism, p. 141

Contents

Publishers

To the Foundation of a School for Publishers, failing which, no School of Journalism can have meaning.

--A.J. Liebling, foreward to The Wayward Pressman.

I have the Times. That's my religion. That's what I believe in, and it's a hell of a thing to hold onto.

- -Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., publisher, The New York Times, in The New Yorker, May 10, 1999.

It occurred to me after a while that the higher you go on a big newspaper the less fun you have, and that this applied especially to the publisher at the very top. Publishers are a little like doctors -- most of the people who come to see them have a pain, the main difference being that unlike doctors, publishers are usually blamed for causing the pain in the first place.

--James Reston, Deadline, p. 124.

Contents

Pundits

Many people have their reputations as reporters and analysts because they are on television, batting around conventional wisdom. A lot of these people have never reported a story.

--Bob Woodward

 

Journalists who devote themselves to punditry invent all sorts of rationalizations for why they do it. It helps get speaking engagements. Your phone calls are returned more quickly. But the real reason to do it is that's fun. You get the satisfaction of having your say, and you get the thrill of being sort of famous for a few minutes, and possibly not looking like a total idiot. When you do a show that's all attitude and leering, you come out of the studio feeling as if you'd just taken part in some malicious prant--dirty and ashamed. But if you get to talk about something you've reported on, or have actually thought about, the visceral jolt is more intense than anything print journalism offers. (That's the real corruption of punditry: it can give you the psychic satisfaction of print with one per cent of the effort.)

--David Brooks, "Live From 400," The New Yorker, November 13, 2000

Nonfiction writers have discovered that there is a lucrative way to lighten this overhanging chore [of writing]. It's called punditry, taken from the Hindu term for a "learned man," and it can be the ticket out of the tedium of trying to make every word count. One one can parlay a byline into a TV I.D.-tag, the quality of craftwork of journalism--constructing paragraphs as if they were fine cabinets, filigreeing the sentences with a wry touch here, a bass note there--becomes a Victorian enterprise that no longer need weigh one down. Being granted the license to blab on TV permits the writer to blab in print, since it all becomes part of the same shtick. Grooming a loftier persona on the page will only confuse your new fans!

--James Wolcott, "Punditry for Dummies," Vanity Fair, February 2001

Contents

Reporters

I can't swing a dead cat without hitting a reporter.

--Gen. Russell Honore

With all that can be said, justly, against journalists, there is one kind of journalist to whom civilization owes a very great debt, namely the brave and honest reporter who unearths and makes public unpleasant facts, cases of injustice, cruelty, corruption, which the authorities would like to keep hidden, and which even the average reader would prefer not to be compelled to think about."

 --W.H. Auden

I have gone on the air and announced my telephone number at the Washington Post. I go into the night, talking to people, looking for things. The great dreaded thing every reporter lives with is what you don't know. The source you didn't go to. The phone call you didn't return.

--Bob Woodward

Now, you cannot pay a good reporter for what he does, because he does not work for pay. He works for his paper. He gives his time, his health, his brains, his sleeping hours, and his eating hours, and sometimes his life, to get news for it. He thinks the sun rises only that men may have light by which to read it. But if he has been in a newspaper office from his youth up, he finds out before he becomes a reporter that this is not so, and loses his real value. He should come right out of the University where he has been doing "campus notes" for the college weekly, and be pitchforked out into city work without knowing whether the Battery is at Harlem or Hunter's Point, and with the idea that he is a Moulder of Public Opinion and that the Power of the Press is greater than the Power of Money, and that the few lines he writes are of more value in the Editor's eyes than is the column of advertising on the last page, which they are not.

--Richard Harding W.H. Auden Davis, The Reporter Who Made Himself King

With a notebook in my hand, I am ev'ry where at home,

Whether in my native land, or in foreign parts I roam,

Ev'ry thing I do espy, nothing can escape mine eye;

I dance after ev'ry tune, I mount up in a balloon,

And in ev'ry club I go, whether high or whether low,

Those who entrance will forbid, I with prudence soon outwit!

And where ever I remain, ev'ry secret I obtain....

--Franz von Suppé, "The Reporter Song," from Fatinitza.

I have often wondered why I . . .why we . . . do it? After a few seconds the answer used to come easily: because it matters, because the world will care once they see our stories . . . because if we the storytellers don't do this, then the bad guys will win. We do it because we are committed, because we are believers.

--Christiane Amanapour, 2000 RTNDA Convention

A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow. There's nothing tangible of yesterday. All I can say I've done is agitate the air ten or fifteen minutes and then boom - it's gone.

--Edward R. Murrow

If you expect good taste when 2,000 reporters gather, you're going to be disappointed.

--Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary. The New Yorker, April 26/May 3, 1999

The guy I admire most in the world is a good reporter. I respect a good reporter, and I'd like to be called that. I'd like to be considered good and honest and reasonably accurate. The reporter has one of the toughest jobs in the world -- getting as near the truth as possible is a terribly tough job. I was a local side reporter in St. Louis and Milwaukee. I wasn't as good as some. I wasn't one of those who could go out and find the kidnapper and the child. But I got my facts straight and did a thorough job.

I like to report on the scene around me, on the little piece of the world as I see it, as it is in my time. And I like to do it in a way that gives the reader a little pleasure, a little entertainment. I've always had the notion that people go to spectator sports to have fun and then the grab the paper to read about it and have fun again.

--Red Smith, The Red Smith Reader, p.3.

And almost all reporters are inaccurate. Have you ever noticed when you read about something in the papers you truly know about that ninety percent of it is inaccurate? A lot of mistakes have to do with early deadlines, of course, the need to get something down in a hurry for the afternoon or morning editions. Often there's just no time to check the accuracy of your sources. I know -- I started out as a reporter on The Kansas City Star. But some of it comes form the reporter's conceit, and the contempt for a reader's intelligence that only a truly conceited reporter can have. And a lot comes from laziness, or, to be more accurate, from fatigue.

--Ernest Hemingway, quoted by Gregory Hemingway in Papa: A Personal Memoir

For me, the definition of good reporting is good writing about real people, real situations, real events. When the reporting, whether short or long, is very good, I find it thrilling to read. Without exception, it directs my attention as a reader to what has been been written, not to who has done the writing. Invariably, the great reporter-writers have wanted it that way. They have given us their reporting, and have been quiet about it. One can read the reporting of the great reporter-writers of the past, know that they were telling us the truth about real poeple, real situations, real events, and find it exciting.

--Lillian Ross, Takes, pp. 5-6

Sometimes they write what I say and not what I mean.

- Pedro Guerrero, St. Louis Cardinals, on sports reporters

I act as a sponge. I soak it up and squeeze it out in ink every two weeks.

--Janet Flanner

 

You're supposed to piss off the talent at the end of the interview, not the beginning.


--Unnamed reporter to another after a Hollywood press conference, Michael Kleinschrodt
, The Times-Picayune, Mar 2, 2001

Contents

Tabloid newspapers

The proprietors of the tabloids . . . have produced a new type of paper which is consciously adapted to a low and hurried intelligence. But the essence of tabloid journalism is that it caters with extreme skill to the unadjusted and unpriviliged part of the community. It offers them not rebellion but vicarious satsifaction, and therefore it is a kind of narcotic bolshevishm as distinguished from the stimulant bolshevism that Lenin preached.

--Walter Lippman, "The Battle Over Censorship," Men of Destiny, p. 101

Americans have a fundamental mistrust and personal loathing for what they perceive as gutter journalists. They don't like tabloid reporters. We made a fundamental error in presenting that world.

--Unnamed executive after NBC killed the short-lived"Deadline," as quoted in the New York Times, November 7, 2000

Contents

Television news

If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set,then there'd be peace.

--John Lennon

Occasionally I'll watch Fox News for as long as I can tolerate it, or CNN. I'll watch until I get infuriated, but you got to know what they're talking about and what they're not talking about.

--David Cross

Why something in the public interest such as television news can be fought over, like a chain of hamburger stands, eludes me.

--Jimmy Breslin


Listening to a news broadcast is like smoking a cigarette and crushing the butt in the ashtray.

--Milan Kundera

I love it! Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups. The Death Hour! A great Sunday night show for the whole family. We'll wipe fuckin' Disney right off the air.

--Max Schumacher (William Holden) to Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in Network.

What worries me about television news . . . is not bias. Where that does exist, it is a minor problem. What counts is the level of competence, the knowledge, the experience with which the news of the day is approached. Breeziness is not a substitute for those qualities. Hair, real or tacked on is not a substitute. Smiles don't make up for the absence of judgment. Being told to have a good day or a good night, or to "Enjoy," is less valuable than getting the information you need.

--Edwin Newman, "A Journalist's Responsibility," in The Responsibilities of Journalism, pp.37-8.

It is always mildly depressing to watch the network anchors announce a new President. They cannot help being condescending: leaders of the free world, after all, come and go, but Dan and Peter and Tom are with us always. Never having been voted into office, they can never be voted out. No one elected them, no one appointed them, no one even asked them to declare the winners of Presidential elections. Yet there they are, every four years, graciously welcoming a politician to a temporary seat among the media gods.


--Louis Menand, The New Yorker, Nov. 20, 2000

Contents

United Press

HOURS TOO LONG WAGES TOO LOW LIFE TOO SHORT

--Jeremiah L. O'Sullivan, telegraphing his reasons for resigning from United Press, Deadline Every Minute, p.78

AP reporters would never run for a telephone again if there wasn't a UPI.

--Gene Patterson, editor, St. Petersburg Times, 1981

I was alarmed at suddenly having top responsibility in a warring capital for a great network [CBS]. When we knew one another better, I asked Paul White how he came to have faith in an unknown. He said, "I know you were well brought up, from a top school." I said, "Oxford?" He said, "No, United Press." That year and next, he hired Collingwood, Hottelet and Bill Downs, all from UP. Where did Paul White himself get his start? You need not ask.

--Howard K. Smith, Events Leading Up To My Death

Writing for one of the great news agencies [United Press] was a new experience, an uneasy one. There were good men in that office, and they worked very hard for very little return. On them and their colleagues in the other agencies lay the heaviest responsibility: to provide the public minute by minute with the basic, factual news of the day. They did the spade work, while the other, "special" writers for individual papers had time and leisure to select their material and to take the long view-or the jocular view, depending upon their characters. The agency men were able, but they were in the grip of an unrelenting system that had evil results. The insistent demand was for speed and "exclusives," not for accuracy or quality of composition. New York headquarters demanded new "leads" for every edition on a running story, and if there was no really fresh news when the demand came, new leads would be invented, by a turn of a phrase, by a bolder interpretation of somebody's statement, by a reckless guess as to what would happen next in the affair. Each week reports came from New York comparing our success with that of the opposition. Success was always measured on the basis of which agency's story had received "top billing" in the headlines, not on the writing quality or the factual accuracy. It was like two or three competing merchants, each watching the others like a hawk and putting gaudier and gaudier displays in his window to attract passing customers.

--Eric Sevareid, Not So Wild a Dream.

Contents

Writing

I just write for the milkman in Omaha. I figure if he can understand what I'm writing, then everybody can understand it.

--William G. Shepherd,United Press reporter, quoted in Joe Alex Morris, Deadline Every Minute, p.42.

After dinner, your host asks you "Well, what was it like?" As you talk, the maid is passing the coffee and her boyfriend, a truck driver, is waiting for her in the kitchen and listening. You are supposed to describe things in terms that make sense to the truck driver without insulting the intelligence of the professor.

--Edward R. Murrow, instructions to new CBS radio reporters during WW II

[Of James T. Flexner, then a new reporter on the New York Herald-Tribune]: His first outside assignment was to cover a picnic given by a Hibernian society; in his copy the novice described the event as "fascinating" -- an adjective, [Stanley] Walker's least favorite part of speech , and a poor one at that. "Don't proclaim it," the city editor said upon summoning the fledgling and indicating the offending word, "show it." "It was a fine a piece of advice as I've ever had," recalled Flexner, the future Pulitzer Prize biographer of George Washington.

-- Richard Kluger, The Paper, p.245.

[Paul Sann, executive editor of the New York Post] lit a Camel. Then he pointed at a paragraph near the end.

You see this, he said, where you say this is a tragedy?

Yeah.

I'm taking it out. And don't you ever use the fucking word "tragedy" again. You tell what happened, and let the reader say it's a tragedy. If you're crying, the reader won't.

I see what you mean.

You better, he said, taking a drag on the cigarette, then sipping the black coffee. He glanced at the story again.

Maybe in another eight or nine years, you could be pretty good at this miserable trade.

--Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life, p. 223.

My dual job [with CBS and The New York Times] made an interesting combination. UP had trained me to write with the utmost compactness to save on cable tolls. My first story for the Times was written that way. [Times Berlin bureau chief Guido] Enderis handed it back to me and said, "Spread it out. Take your time. Loosen up." I rewrote it in ten paragraphs rather than five, and it did make for an easier read. Then I would take the same material out to the radio building and drastically retighten it. A minute and fifteen seconds was the limit for a broadcast, space for a sonnet and a half.

--Howard K. Smith, Events Leading Up To My Death, pp. 105-6.

Before writing, think a lot. After writing, erase a lot. [Advice from Carlos Herrar Alvarez, editor of El Sol del Norte, Saltillo, Mexico]

--Armando Fuentes Aguirre, "Mirador" column, Reforma, Mexico City

The top of a newspaper story is like a hanger in a closet. If it's weak or off center, it won't support anything. But if it's solid, you can hang a ton of information on it, and it will all like flat and straight.

--David Ignatius, A Firing Offense, p. 57.

On The [Kansas City] Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. That's useful to anyone.''

-- Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review, Spring 1958

[Ernest] Hemingway would always remember the style sheet and its core admonition: "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."

"Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing," Hemingway said in 1940. "I've never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them."

The "Copy Style" sheet was a bible, containing eminently practical rules. Some others:

Never use old slang. Such words as stunt, cut out, got his goat, come across, sit up and take notice, put one over, have no use after their use has become common. Slang to be enjoyable must be fresh.

Eliminate every superfluous word as Funeral services will be at 2 o'clock Tuesday, not The funeral services will be held at the hour of 2 o'clock Tuesday. Avoid the use of adjectives, especially such extravagant ones as splendid, gorgeous, grand, magnificent, etc.

Don't say, He had his leg cut off in an accident. He wouldn't have had it done for anything.

He was eager to go, not anxious to go. You are anxious about a friend who is ill.

He died of heart disease, not heart failure -- everybody dies of heart failure.''

--Jim Fisher, Kansas City Star

Contents

 

Have a favorite journalism quote? Click here and send it to Dr. Larry Lorenz.

Updated June 20, 2001


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