What is news?
Famous quotes on journalism

The News Manual has definitions of what news is (see the lower links on the right), but here we share with you some other people's opinions on the subject. Some of them are clear and reasonable while others are deeply cynical. Some are given as practical advice after years of professional experience while others are just witty. But all are worth thinking about.

One brief disclaimer: With many quotes there are ongoing disputes about the precise wording, translation or attribution. One of the oldest quotes here is Voltaire's famous defence of freedom of speech, yet arguments continue about it to this day. While we have tried to give the most accurate version of each quote and its attribution, we always stand to be corrected through the Contact Us page. Enjoy.


What is news?

man bites dogWhen a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.
Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897

News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.
Lord Northcliffe, British publisher 1865-1922

Well, news is anything that's interesting, that relates to what's happening in the world, what's happening in areas of the culture that would be of interest to your audience.
Kurt Loder, American journalist, b. 1945

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.
Joseph Pulitzer, American publisher, 1847-1911

News is anything that makes a reader say, `Gee Whiz'!
Arthur MacEwen, American editor,

No one says "Gee Whiz!" very much these days, of course, not even in America — both because that expression has long since been supplanted by others more colourful and less printable, and because our capacity for surprise has long since been dulled by a surfeit of sources.
Shashi Tharoor, Indian writer and diplomat, b. 1956

What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion.
Lester Markel, American journalist, 1894-1977

It is hard news that catches readers. Features hold them.
Lord Northcliffe, British publisher 1865-1922

To a journalist, good news is often not news at all.
Phil Donahue, American entertainer, b. 1935

No news is good news.
Ludovic Halevy, French author, 1834-1908

[News is] a first rough draft of history.
Philip L. Graham, American publisher, 1915-1963

For most folks, no news is good news; for the press, good news is not news.
Gloria Borger, American journalist, b. 1952

The real news is bad news.
Marshall Mcluhan, Canadian communications theorist, 1911-1980

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.
Evelyn Waugh, British author, 1903-1966

Good stories flow like honey but bad stories stick in the craw [gullet]. What is a bad story? It's a story that cannot be absorbed in the first time of reading. It's a story that leaves questions unanswered.
Arthur Christiansen, British newspaper editor, 1904-1963

Hard news really is hard. It sticks not in the craw but in the mind. It has an almost physical effect, causing fear, interest, laughter or shock.
Andrew Marr, British journalist, b. 1959

Never awake me when you have good news to announce, because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.
Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor, 1769-1821

Journalism consists largely in saying Lord Jones died to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.
G.K. Chesterton, British writer, 1874-1936

News reports stand up as people, and people wither into editorials. Clichés walk around on two legs while men are having theirs shot off.
Karl Kraus, Austrian satirist, 1874-1936

A master passion is the love of news.
George Crabbe, British poet, 1754-1832

For a more humorous definition of news in America, go to:

^^back to the top

On journalists and journalism

There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.
Walter Lippmann, American journalist, 1889-1974

People may expect too much of journalism. Not only do they expect it to be entertaining, they expect it to be true.
Lewis H. Lapham, American publisher and editor, b. 1935

The day you write to please everyone you no longer are in journalism. You are in show business.
[Possibly] Frank Miller, American cartoonist,

Newsmen believe that news is a tacitly acknowledged fourth branch of the federal system. This is why most news about government sounds as if it were federally mandated - serious, bulky and blandly worthwhile, like a high-fiber diet set in type.
P. J. O'Rourke, American journalist, b. 1947

The conflict between the men who make and the men who report the news is as old as time. News may be true, but it is not truth, and reporters and officials seldom see it the same way. In the old days, the reporters or couriers of bad news were often put to the gallows; now they are given the Pulitzer Prize, but the conflict goes on.
James Reston, American journalist, 1909-1995

The greatest felony in the news business today is to be behind, or to miss a big story. So speed and quantity substitute for thoroughness and quality, for accuracy and context. The pressure to compete, the fear somebody else will make the splash first, creates a frenzied environment in which a blizzard of information is presented and serious questions may not be raised.
Carl Bernstein, American journalist and writer, b. 1944

Journalism is literature in a hurry.
Matthew Arnold, British poet and critic, 1822-1888

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.
Cyril Connolly, British editor, 1903-1974

The truth is, "What is a journalist?" is one of those questions for which there is no proper answer. The prehistory of modern journalism shows it has been a ragged and confusing trade all the way through.
Andrew Marr, British journalist, b. 1959

Journalism is often simply the industrialisation of gossip.
Andrew Marr, British journalist, b. 1959

We cannot make good news out of bad practice.
Edward R. Murrow, American broadcast journalist, 1908-1965

I have a motto: My job is not to make up anybody's mind but to make the agony of decision making so intense that you can escape only by thinking.
Fred Friendly, former president of CBS News, 1915–1998

^^back to the top

The media

It is a newspaper's duty to print the news and raise hell.
Wilbur F. Storey, American editor, 1818-1884

A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.
Arthur Miller, American writer, 1915-2005

[A newspaper] comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
Attributed to Finley Peter Dunne, American writer, 1867-1936

There is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily. Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn't write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn't any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.
John F. Kennedy, American President, 1917-1963

Television? No good will come of this device. The word is half Greek and half Latin.
[Attributed to] C.P. Scott, British journalist and publisher, 1846-1932

Television makes so much [money] at its worst that it can't afford to do its best.
Fred Friendly, former president of CBS News, 1915–1998

This instrument [broadcasting] can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.
Edward R. Murrow, 1958, American broadcaster and journalist 1908-1965

^^back to the top

Truth and freedom

I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. ["Je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire."]
Attributed to Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), French philosopher, 1694-1778

The facts fairly and honestly presented; truth will take care of itself.
William Allen White American Editor, 1868-1944

A free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything but bad.
Albert Camus, French philosopher and journalist, 1913-1960

News reports don't change the world. Only facts change it, and those have already happened when we get the news.
Friedrich Durrenmatt, Swiss author, 1921-1990

News represents another form of advertising, not liberal propaganda.
Christopher Lasch, American historian, 1932- 1994

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
and ...
The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.
Thomas Jefferson, American President, 1743-1826

Try to be conspicuously accurate in everything, pictures as well as text. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.
William Randolph Hearst, American publisher, 1863-1951

The bigger the information media, the less courage and freedom they follow. Bigness means weakness.
Eric Sevareid, American journalist, 1912-1992

If the newspapers of a country are filled with good news, the jails of that country will be filled with good people.
Daniel Moynihan, American politician and diplomat, 1927-2003

We should never overlook how far theories or ideologies that are different from our own can stimulate. It's not what's like what we're thinking, but what's different from what we're thinking which is going to drive thought forward.
Dame Gillian Beer, British academic, b. 1935

The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.
Edward R. Murrow, American broadcast journalist, 1908-1965

Journalists may spend our lives chasing that chimera called 'Truth' and never quite nail it down, but every day we can practise honesty.
David Ingram, The News Manual, 2008

In war, truth is the first casualty.
Earliest attribution to Aeschylus, Greek dramatist, 525 BC - 456BC

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.
Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish intellectual, 1667-1745


Do you have a famous quote that's not included above? Send it to us, preferably with the attribution, via the Contact Us page.

^^back to the top

Famous quotes on journalism
More in The News Manual

Home | About | The Manuals | Exercises | Resources | Links | Contact Us | What's New

Copyright David Ingram and the Peter Henshall Estate 2008. Website by Diopdesign