You may also enjoy Barbara Schmidt's remarkable Mark Twain site includes a full page of Twain's newspaper quotes. I could repeat all of them here, or you could just look at that site.
Shortly after discovering the Twain quotes, I became interested in Twain's speech, License of the Press. I worked Google for two hours, but couldn't find this public domain writing anywhere in electronic form. The cheapest print version was $10. None of the Kindle collections included it. Eventually, I was able to find a digitized version, which I have cleaned up and placed on my site as a service to others interested in writings about journalism: Mark Twain's License of the Press speech.
Journalist César G. Soriano (who worked at USA Today at one time) compiled All the Journalism quotes fit to print. The site disappeared and I recovered it from the Internet Archive. I attempted to reach Mr. Soriano, but was unable to find contact information from him. If he, or anyone associated with him, wants the page down, please contact me at pes-at-sign-schindler-dot-org.
And now a word from your proprietor:
I was discussing this web page with my wife, who noted that every quotation on it was negative. "Hasn't anyone ever said anything positive about journalism?" To get the ball rolling, I have collected some of my favorite newspaper declarations of principle (including one fictional one). I would love to add more, if you'd be kind enough to share them; you can find my email address at the bottom of this page.
HARD TO FIND POSITIVE QUOTATIONS ABOUT JOURNALISM
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.
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration
and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why
the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to
shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the
First Amendment, the only business in America specifically protected by
the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to
emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the
public what it wants,’ but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state
our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our
choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public
Free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.
News Corporation, today, reaches people at home and
at work... when they're thinking... when they're laughing... and when
they are making choices that have enormous impact. The unique
potential.. and duty.. of a media company are to help its audiences
connect to the issues that define our time.
As with all politically lead governments, foreign
investment is the slowest in the media section. Politicians are
somewhat paranoid about the media but we still think it's worthwhile.
All of us who professionally use the mass media are
the shapers of society. we can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize
it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.
...opening up a newspaper is the key to looking
classy and smart. Never mind the bronze-plated stuff about the role of
the press in a democracy -- a newspaper, kiddo, is about Style.
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.
It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times
give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in
language that is permissible in good society, and give it as early if
not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium;
to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of
party, sect, or interest involved; to make of the columns of The New
York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public
importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all
shades of opinion.
Money is the great power today. Men sell their souls for it. Women sell their bodies for it. Others worship it. The money power has grown so great that the issue of all issues is whether the corporation shall rule this country or the country shall again rule the corporations.
There is room in this great and growing city for a journal that is not only cheap but bright, not only bright but large, not only large but truly democratic--dedicated to the cause of the people rather than that of the purse potentates--devoted more to the news of the New than the Old World--that will expose all fraud and sham, fight all public evils and abuses--that will sever and battle for the people with earnest sincerity.
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.
I. I will provide the people of this city with a daily newspaper that will tell all the news honestly.
II. I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and human beings.
The [Oregon] Journal in its head and heart will
stand for the people, be truly Democratic and free from political
entanglements and machinations, believing in the principles that
promise the greatest good to the greatest number--to ALL MEN,
regardless of race, creed or previous condition of servitude... It will
be a fair newspaper, not a dull and selfish sheet...
In journalistic débuts of this kind many talk of
principle-political principle, party principle-as a sort of steel trap
to catch the public. We ... disdain ... all principle, as it is called,
all party, all politics. Our only guide shall be good, sound, practical
common sense, applicable to the business and bosoms of men engaged in
Preserve your independence of all demagogues and
place-hunters and never submit to their dictation; write boldly and
tell the truth fearlessly; criticize whatever is wrong, and denounced
whatever is rotten in the administration of your local and state
affairs, no matter how much it may offend the guilty or wound the
would-be leaders of your party...Make an earnest and conscientious
journal; establish its reputation for truth and reliability, frankness
and independence. Never willfully deceive the people, or trifle with
their confidence. Show that your journal is devoted to the advocacy and
promotion of their temporal interests and moral welfare.
The philosophical basis on which a newspaper rests
is extremely important. Why is it published? Only to turn a profit? Or
does it have another purpose? The answer is yes, our newspapers have
philosophical roots. What has been this unique character? For one, a
caring about the way things are for the ordinary person, caring about
the way the world is, the way the state is, the way the city is...The
first Bee was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in
a just society. It cared about the things that would make this new
community a just society - affordable bank interest rates, land for
settlers, an honest court system, cheap electricity when it arrived and
clean water, trees and parks, good schools and fair treatment for the
--Traditional newspaper credos
Journalism is a noble calling. The working
journalist is to report, write, and explain in accordance with the
highest standards of the profession.
And I say to you, whether you do environmental
reporting or some other kind of journalism, and whether you practice
journalism here in the U.S. or in some other place, please keep doing
it and doing it well. Despite everything, journalism remains a noble
EASIER TO FIND NEGTIVE QUOTATIONS ABOUT JOURNALISM
I have long thought that his [Rupert Murdoch's] social philosophy was contained in his cartoon show, The Simpsons: all politicians and public officials are crooks, and the masses are a vast lumpen proletariat of deluded and exploitable blowhards.
--Conrad Black, once again a free man, Oct. 2010
I do not mean to be the slightest bit critical of TV newspeople, who do a superb job, considering that they operate under severe time constraints and have the intellectual depth of hamsters. But TV news can only present the ‘bare bones’ of a story; it takes a newspaper, with its capability to present vast amounts of information, to render the story truly boring.
-Dave Barry, newspaper humor columnist and author, Dave Barry is from Mars and Venus, p. 219, 1997.
Too strong a media emphasis on death and violence can lead to despair.
Dealing with the media is more difficult that bathing a leper
... the British media [are] as untroubled by logical inconsistency as they are by a shortage of facts, lack of knowledge, or deficiencies in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
...The British press... [claimed that Tony] Blair
was simply Bush's poodle -- a favorite phrase, bewilderingly popular,
although it made no sense -- and that he was ignoring the will of the
British people. Considering the hacks had spent Blair's first six years
in office condemning him for relying on focus groups and opinion polls
for his policies -- in other words, paying attention to nothing but the
will of the people, or at least their whims -- that seemed a little
rich to me, but as I said, logical consistency has never figured highly
in the British media's scale of values.
A good newspaper is never nearly good enough but a lousy newspaper is a joy forever. [sometimes misquoted as "bad newspaper"]
For years now, Martin [Amis] has had a contentious
relationship with British journalists, whom he likens to mullahs. "They
whip up hysteria," he explained. "Journalists are more powerful now
than they've ever been, and we all know what power does. Anyone who
disses the media is really asking for it. But it is the case that the
journalists are what they are - world famous for vulgarity, alcoholism,
I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying-it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.
Every word I wrote was ephemeral, as evanescent as baby's breath, and had the shelf life of fish.
If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you'll eventually be accused of treason.
One problem I have with reporters is that to a
reporter following me around, my untimely death wouldn't be a tragedy,
but a professional opportunity.
Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of
himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally
indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's
vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying
them without remorse.
Anonymous sources are to journalism what silicon
enhancements are to the feminine figure; they look impressive to the
gullible, but something doesn't feel right.
Nobody beats a bunch of journalists for inflating
their rather mundane straightforward chores with a lot more melodrama
and self-importance than the job should be asked to contain.
... Don [Hewitt, 60 Minutes exec producer] told me,
"You have set broadcast journalism back 20 years." Naturally, I was
both proud and elated although too modest to say so, but broadcast
journalism recovered with alacrity, my contract wasn't renewed, and the
incident was forgotten.
I have posted the two most rousing speeches from Tom Stoppard's excellent play on the subject of journalism, Night and Day.
Those of us forced to read the London papers
sometimes speculate about which is greater: the average British hack's
sloth, mendacity, ignorance, obsequiousness, capacity for drink, or
aversion to paying for that drink. Smart money tends to split between
the latter two.
Diminished circumstances had no effect on his sense of what was honorable: after The Spectator
sent him a check for a piece it had accepted but was unable to run for
a lack of space, he refused to write for the magazine again.
Special Terry Pratchett Section
All quotes in this section are from his book The Truth, copyright 2000, published by HarperTorch, New York.
[Note: this is a variation on a piece of doggerel first recited to me by Donald. J. Sterling Jr., editor of The Oregon Journal:
You cannot hope to bribe or twist
--Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940), British poet, author. "Over the Fire," bk. 1, The Uncelestial City (1930).]
END Special Terry Pratchett Section
Special H.L. Mencken Section
End Special H.L. Mencken Section
The difference between managing and editing is that a word doesn't tell you to go f*** yourself when you tell it to move.
On behalf of the newspaper industry (new,
cost-cutting motto: ``All the News That'') I wish to announce some
changes we're making to serve you better. When I say ``serve you
better,'' I mean ``increase our profits.'' We newspapers are very big
on profits these days. We're a business, just like any other business,
except that we employ English majors.
An editor without a magazine is like a jockey
without a horse. When you see a jockey standing there without being up
on a horse, they seem little and not very impressive. I was riding a
lame horse, but I still enjoyed it.
We must express the view, based on our empirical
observations, that a substantial number of journalists are ignorant,
lazy, opinionated, and intellectually dishonest. The profession is
heavily cluttered with aged hacks toiling through a miasma of mounting
decrepitude and often alcoholism, and even more so with arrogant and
abrasive youngsters who substitute 'commitment' for insight. The
product of their impassioned intervention in public affairs is more
often confusion than lucidity.
The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench,
a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men
die like dogs.
A newspaper is not the place to go to see people
actually earning a living, though journalists like to pretend they
never stop sweating over a hot typewriter. It is much more like a
brothel - short, rushed bouts of really enjoyable activity interspersed
with long lazy stretches of gossip, boasting, flirtation, drinking,
telephoning, strolling about the corridors sitting on the corner of
desks, planning to start everything tomorrow. Each of the inmates has a
little specialty to please the customers. The highest paid ones perform
only by appointment; the poorest take on anybody, The editors are like
madams - soothing, flattering, disciplining their naughty,
temperamental staff, but rarely obliged to satisfy the clients
personally between the printed sheets.
The world's three oldest professions are
prostitution, spying and journalism. The last one has small elements of
the first two but it doesn't pay you as well. However, it won't land
you in jail either in a civilized country.
I can tell you what its like to
work for a newspaper. Imagine a combine, one of those huge threshing
machines that eat up a row of wheat like nothing, bearing right down on
you. You're running in front of it, all day long, day in and day out,
just inches in front of the maw, where steel blades are whirring and
clacking and waiting for you to get tired or make one slip. The only
way to keep the combine off you is to throw it something else to rip
apart and digest. What you feed it is stories. Words and photos. Ten
inches on this, fifteen inches on that, a vertical shot here and a
horizontal there, scraps of news and film that go into the maw where
they are processed and dumped onto some page to fill the spaces around
the ads. Each story buys you a little time, barely enough to slap
together the next story, and the next and the next. You never get far
ahead, you never take a breather, all you do is live on the hustle.
Always in a rush, always on deadline, you keep scrambling to feed the
combine. That's what it's like. The only way to break free is with a
big story, one you can ride for a while and tear off in pieces so big,
the combine has to strain to choke them down. That buys you a little
time. But sooner or later the combine will come chomping after you
again, and you better be read to feed it all over again.
THE DAILY FISH wrap. A 19th century Irish immigrant
named O'Reilly called the newspaper ``a biography of something greater
than a man. It is the biography of a DAY. It is a photograph, of twenty
four hours' length, of the mysterious river of time that is sweeping
past us forever. And yet we take our year's newspapers -- which contain
more tales of sorrow and suffering, and joy and success, and ambition
and defeat, and villainy and virtue, than the greatest book ever
written -- and we use them to light the fire.''
Experienced newspaper reporters arrive at middle age
with a memory surrounded by a bodyguard of ironies. The reporter is
always on the borders of someone else's country, his papers never quite
in order. However much e knows, he can never know enough. The dispatch
written with utter confidence turns out to be incomplete or
wrongheaded. The dispatch written on instinct alone turns out to be
God's truth. The best and most faithful of these characters come to
understand that in some profound sense they are owned by their
memories, and that in turn their own angle of vision -- in essence,
whether they see themselves as insider or outsider, paleface or redskin
-- depends on the earliest circumstances of their own lives, their
childhood fears and joys, and on how danger was defined, and how it all
fit in. In the summing-up, what is to be done?
If I have to do all this superficial crap you've assigned me, I need time to do it in depth.
A Journalist is a machine that converts coffee into copy.
Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity,
none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he
pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample
him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us
do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I.
I would have to watch out at the White House, as I
did at CBS, for the kind of editors who want to sit around and give you
their opinions on things instead of concentrating on the text and
catching your factual mistakes. Catching mistakes is hard, you have to
know things like facts and numbers and names; you have to be awake.
Anybody can have an opinion. This is not to say that good editors don't
notice things like the quality of the writing, they do, and when it's
low they hope you'll be fired, which you probably will be. But the
first thing a good editor does is catch your dumb mistakes; all else,
as they say, is commentary.
... It was the idea of facing a future skimming the
surface of life, winging my way in and out of other people's crises,
confusions, and passages, engaging them enough to get the story, but
never enough to be indelibly touched by what I had seen or heard.
The First Law of Journalism: to confirm existing prejudice, rather than contradict it.
Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.
The public have an insatiable curiosity to know
everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of
this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.
I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.
The press is a blind old cat yelling on a treadmill
Trying to determine what is going on in the world by
reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the
second hand of a clock.
If God himself reached down into the muck and mire, he could not raise a journalist up to the depths of degradation!
The four pillars of wisdom that support journalistic
endeavors are: lies, stupidity, money-grubbing, and ethical
In the hierarchy of predatory animals, Journalists are the carrion eaters.
It sometimes takes a while for executives to figure
out that the reporters they think of as little bugs to be squashed or
spun can be more powerful than they are.
The media only report stupid or careless answers, not stupid or unfair questions.
A curious journalist-those words should be redundant, but, alas, I have to tell you they are not.
Cybermedia will make every man his own editor, which
in turn makes every writer a fool. The Internet will transmit
misinformation very efficiently. We will miss the gatekeepers.
Donald A. Davis Section
Bureau Manager, UPI Boston (BH), March 1975 (spoken to Paul Schindler)
Anyone who edits their own copy has a fool for an editor.
With the possible exception of God during the writing of the Bible, every writer in history has needed an editor. So do you.
The Bible tells the story of the creation of the world in 800 words. Surely you can do a two-car fatal in 750.
Every good journalist is
aware that his trade may one day go the way of phrenology--and, what's
more, the population will hardly protest the extinction.
Yelling about the media is
like bellowing at the umpire. Maybe it can't change the calls reporters
and editors made about yesterday's story, but it might make a
difference in tomorrow's.
It takes great
self-confidence to write a newspaper column. Some might say it takes
arrogance. Be that as it may, my willingness to pronounce on a great
many matters of which I have little or no knowledge is one of my prime
qualifications for this trade.
Am I surprised that Joe Klein [pseudonymous author of Primary Colors which he denied writing] lied? No, because in my opinion reporters lie all the time.
People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember. Writers are always selling somebody out.
Fiction is a bridge to the truth that journalism can't reach.
These days there's all too much coverage of pesudo-events about extraordinarily inauthentic people doing inauthentic things.
The fear of missing out
means today's media, more than ever, hunts in a pack. In these modes,
it is like a feral beast just tearing people and reputations to bits.
But no-one dares miss out.
What the proprietorship of
these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility —
the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.
“I do not fool around with newspapers,” Mattie says. “The paper editors are great ones for reaping where they have not sown. Another game they have is to send reporters out to talk to you and get your stories free. I know the young reporters are not paid well, and I would not mind helping those boys out with their ‘scoops’ if they could ever get anything right.”
What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at
is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the
harlot throughout the ages.
"There’s so much garbage being disguised as fact and so many gasbags posing as sages; somebody has to cut through the crap. That’s the job of reporters, and their job will be more important than at any time in history."
"Retail corruption is now a breeze, since newspapers and other media can no longer afford enough reporters to cover all the key government meetings. You wake up one day, and they’re bulldozing 20 acres of pines at the end of your block to put up a Costco. Your kids ask what’s going on, and you can’t tell them because you don’t have a clue. That’s what happens when hometown journalism fades — neighborhood stories don’t get reported until it’s too late, after the deal’s gone down. Most local papers are gasping for life, and if they die it will be their readers who lose the most."
—Carl Hiaasen, newspaper columnist and novelist of the weird. Carl Hiaasen on Human Weirdness, Smithsonian Magazine, August 2010
From the book Great Amerian Wit by Robert E. Drennan, quoting New York Newspaper Columnist Heywood Broun, at the peak of his career in the 1920s and 1930s.
Some of my best friends are newspaper photographers... and yet I feel that when one or two are gathered together for professional reasons you have a nuisance, and that a dozen or more constitute a plague.
There are exceptions, but when a play includes Jim Swift--reporter of the Times Telegram, you can be pretty sure that presently there will appear a character compounded out of Iago and the protagonist of Ten Nights in a Barroom.
You might not mind so much if your sister married one of them, and two or three asked in after dinner would not for a certainty spoil the party, but taken as a group drama critics of New York are so much suet pudding.