Quotations about   journalism

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Life is not made up of dramatic incidents — even the life of a nation. It is made up of slowly evolving events and processes, which newspapers, by a score of different forms of emphasis, can reasonably attempt to explore from day to day. But television news jerks from incident to incident. For the real world of patient and familiar arrangements, it substitutes an unreal world of constant activity, and the effect is already apparent in the way which the world behaves. It is almost impossible, these days, to consider any problem or any event except as a crisis; and, by this very way of looking at it, it in fact becomes a crisis.

Henry Fairlie (1924-1990) British journalist and social critic
“Can You Believe Your Eyes?” Horizon (Spring 1967)
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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A democracy is badly served when newspapers and television focus so intensely on the personal joys and tragedies of famous people. This kind of “news” crowds out more serious issues, and there is an important difference — as the Constitution’s framers well knew, and as many people today appear to have forgotten — between the public interest and what interests the public.

Cass R. Sunstein (b. 1954) American legal scholar
“Reinforce the Walls of Privacy,” New York Times (6 Sep 1997)
Added on 13-Dec-16 | Last updated 13-Dec-16
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There ain’t any news in being good. You might write the doings of all the convents of the world on the back of a postage stamp, and have room to spare.

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
(Attributed)
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 4-Mar-16
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The critics of blogs cite their lack of professionalism. Piffle. The dirty little secret of journalism is that it isn’t really a profession. It’s a craft. All you need is a telephone and a conscience, and you’re all set. You get better at it merely by doing it — which is why fancy journalism schools are, to my mind, such a waste of time.

Andrew Sullivan (b. 1963) Anglo-American author, editor, journalist, blogger
“A Blogger’s Creed”, Time (27 Sep 2004)
Added on 6-Jan-16 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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No man ought to be hindered saying or writing what he pleases on the conduct of those who undertake the management of national affairs, in which all are concerned, and therefore have the right to inquire, and to publish their suspicions concerning them. For if you punish the slanderer, you deter the fair inquirer.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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Journalism is a good place for any writer to start — the retelling of fact is always a useful trade and can it help you learn to appreciate the declarative sentence. A young writer is easily tempted by the allusive and ethereal and ironic and reflective, but the declarative is at the bottom of most good writing.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
“Post to the Host” (Jul 2005)
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Added on 4-Dec-14 | Last updated 4-Dec-14
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MILNE: Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Night and Day, Act 1 (1978)
Added on 24-Oct-14 | Last updated 24-Oct-14
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MILNE: No matter how imperfect things are, if you’ve got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
RUTH: I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Night and Day, Act 1 (1978)
Added on 17-Oct-14 | Last updated 17-Oct-14
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A free press stands as one of the great interpreters between the government and the people. To allow it to be fettered is to fetter ourselves.

George Sutherland (1862-1942) Anglo-American jurist, Supreme Court Justice (1922-1938)
Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 250 (1936)
Added on 16-Sep-14 | Last updated 16-Sep-14
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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 opinion.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
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Added on 1-Sep-14 | Last updated 1-Sep-14
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No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
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Added on 25-Aug-14 | Last updated 25-Aug-14
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If the headline asks a question, try answering “no.” Is This the True Face of Britain’s Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn’t have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means “don’t bother reading this bit.”

Andrew Marr (b. 1959) Scottish journalist and political commentator
My Trade (2004)

See Betteridge.
Added on 5-Feb-14 | Last updated 5-Feb-14
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Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

Ian Betteridge (contemp.) British technology journalist
Betteridge’s Law of Headlines
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Common paraphrase of the following, on a TechCrunch article with the headline "Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?": "This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no.' The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it." ("TechCrunch: Irresponsible journalism" (23 Feb 2009). More information here.
Added on 29-Jan-14 | Last updated 29-Jan-14
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How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Letter to Henry Alden (11 Nov 1906)
Added on 25-Oct-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
“Journalism and the Higher Law,” Liberty and the News (1920)

See Rabelais.
Added on 6-Apr-11 | Last updated 19-Apr-18
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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 (1908-1965) American journalist
Speech, The Family of Man Award, The Protestant Council of New York (Oct 1969)

His last public speech.
Added on 3-Mar-09 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2 (1600)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-May-16
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Sometimes I think war is God’s way of teaching us geography.

Paul Rodriguez (b. 1957) Mexican-American comedian
Comic Relief (1987)

Earlier variations exist. Often attributed to Ambrose Bierce, but unverified. Rodriguez citation in the LA Times. Further discussion and citation here, here, and here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-May-14
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