News Is What Somebody Does Not Want You To Print. All the Rest Is Advertising

George Orwell? Alfred Harmsworth? William Randolph Hearst? L. E. Edwardson? Robert W. Sawyer? Mark Rhea Byers? Brian R. Roberts? Malcolm Muggeridge? Katharine Graham? Lord Rothermere? Lord Northcliffe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator:  I have been trying to trace a popular saying about journalism which can be expressed in several ways. Here are four examples to show the core of the statement:

1) News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.

2) News is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising

3) News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations.

4) Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

These remarks do differ, but I think it makes sense to group them all together. Press baron William Randolph Hearst and renowned author George Orwell have both been credited with originating this saying. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strongly matching expression found by QI was published in 1918 in a New York periodical called “The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers”. The words were printed on a sign at a journalist’s desk, and no precise attribution was given. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[ref] 1918 November 30, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, (Filler item), Quote Page 18, Column 4, Publisher Ernest F, Birmingham, Fourth Estate Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

“Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news,” is the sentiment expressed in a little framed placard on the desk of L. E. Edwardson, day city editor of the Chicago Herald and Examiner.

In the following decades the saying evolved and instances were employed by or attributed to a wide variety of prominent news people including William Randolph Hearst, Alfred Harmsworth, Brian R. Roberts, and Katharine Graham.

This entry was improved with the help of top researcher Barry Popik who adroitly explored this topic and shared the results at his website “The Big Apple”.[ref] Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “If you want something in the paper, that’s advertising; you want something kept out, that’s news”, Date on website: July 11, 2014, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 10, 2015) link [/ref]

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A humorous precursor of the disjunction outlined in the adage was printed in a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania newspaper in 1894. The passage below split the population into two categories. Members of the first group wished to keep their names out of the paper, i.e., they desired to suppress the news. Members of the second group were eager to have their names in the paper, i.e., they sought publicity or free advertising.[ref] 1894 August 11, Harrisburg Independent, The Difference, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 6, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

There are but two classes of people in the world—those who have done something and want their names kept out of the paper, and those who haven’t done anything worth printing and want their names put in.—Atchison (Kan.) Globe.

In 1902 the humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote about the nature of news. He employed the dialect-laden voice of “Mr. Dooley”, a popular Irish-American character he had created. Dunne’s catch-phrase reflected the relevant theme: one man’s news is another man’s troubles:[ref] 1902 July 26, Saginaw Evening News (Saginaw News), Mr. Dooley Reviews the News of a Week by F. P. Dunne, Quote Page 5, Column 3, Saginaw, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

What’s wan man’s news is another man’s throubles. In thes hot days, I’d like to see a paper with nawthin’ in it but affectionate wives an’ loyal husbands an’ prosp’rous, smilin’ people an’ money in th’ bank an’ three a day.

In 1903 the book “Journalism as a Profession” was published, and it included a chapter written by Alfred C. Harmsworth who was the influential publisher of the “Daily Mail” of London. Later in life Harmsworth was granted a title and was referred to as Lord Northcliffe. Harmsworth noted that the goal of some individuals was preventing the publication of unfavorable news. This observation was an element of the statement being explored:[ref] 1903, Journalism as a Profession by Arthur Lawrence; With a chapter by Alfred C. Harmsworth, (Chapter X: The Making of a Newspaper by Alfred C. Harmsworth), Start Page 167, Quote Page 184 and 185, Hodder & Stoughton, London. (Google Books full view) link [/ref]

It is part of the business of a newspaper to get news and to print it; it is part of the business of a politician to prevent certain news being printed. For this reason the politician often takes a newspaper into his confidence for the mere purpose of preventing the publication of the news he deems objectionable to his interests.

In 1910 a Reno, Nevada newspaper printed a compact humorous remark that was reminiscent of the duality in the passage in the 1894 citation given previously:[ref] 1910 August 19, Nevada State Journal, Dope O’Reno, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Reno, Nevada. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

There’s only one bigger nuisance than the guy that wants to keep something out of the paper, and that’s the one that wants to get something in.

In 1918 a matching expression was seen on a sign at a journalist’s desk. No precise attribution was given. This key citation was mentioned previously in this article:[ref] 1918 November 30, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, (Filler item), Quote Page 18, Column 4, Publisher Ernest F, Birmingham, Fourth Estate Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

“Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news,” is the sentiment expressed in a little framed placard on the desk of L. E. Edwardson, day city editor of the Chicago Herald and Examiner.

In August 1922 a newspaper publisher named Robert W. Sawyer in Oregon addressed his fellow journalists and complained about the documents and messages that were being sent to papers that were not newsworthy. This deceptive promotional material was a headache for newspapers even in the 1920s:[ref] 1922 August, Oregon Exchanges: For the Newspaper Men of the State of Oregon, Volume 5, Number 6, How Newspapermen Are Cutting Down Their Chances for Success by Robert W. Sawyer (Publisher of Bend Bulletin), (Address delivered at the annual convention of the Oregon Editorial Association), Start Page 1, Quote Page 2, Published in Eugene, Oregon. (HathiTrust Full View) link link link [/ref]

Now every day we go hunting for news and for advertising. And every day advertising disguised as news comes hunting us. Altogether too many of us are caught by it.

Sawyer presented an explication of authentic news based on a duality:

Many definitions of news have been attempted. For the present purpose the best I have seen is as follows:

“If the paper wants it worse than the person handing it in, it’s news.”

“If the person handing it in wants it published worse than the newspaper, it’s advertising.”

Later in August 1922 the remarks of Sawyer struck a chord with a writer at “The Fourth Estate” who printed a summary statement:[ref] 1922 August 5, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, Oregon Editors Mix Business and Pleasure, Start Page 8, Quote Page 25, Publisher Ernest F, Birmingham, Fourth Estate Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

Sawyer said if a person who hands in something to a paper wants it published worse than the newspaper does, he is not handing out news, but peddling free advertising.

In 1925 the quip expressing the split between news and advertising was labeled an “old saying”:[ref] 1925 April 1, Hattiesburg American, (Article without a title), Quote Page 7, Column 4, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

A delegation came into the American’s editorial department and asked to see some one who would put a piece in the paper for them. The old saying, “It’s news if they want anything kept out of the paper; it’s advertising if they want it in,” immediately came to the staff’s mind.

In 1930 the popular syndicated columnist Walter Winchell ascribed an instance of the saying to the powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst. In the following passage “good news” meant genuine news. Also, the ellipsis was in the original text:[ref] 1930 September 18, The Wisconsin State Journal, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 3, Column 6, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref][ref] 1930 September 18, The Port Arthur News, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Port Arthur, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

Hearst chirped a mouthful when he recently said that when a man wants to keep anything out of the paper it is good news!…When he wants you to print it—it is propaganda or advertising!

Another column by Walter Winchell in August 1937 showed that the 1918 saying had not been forgotten. The following passage employed a term from Winchell’s specialized vocabulary. “Sateveposted” meant published in the popular magazine “The Saturday Evening Post”:[ref] 1937 August 2, Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Logansport, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

Mark Rhea Byers, a small town editor, Sateveposted a piece on his headaches recently, and mentioned the money of a wall motto which one publisher plasters all over his editorial department, to wit: “Whatever a patron wants published is advertising. Whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news!”

In December 1937 a British periodical about automobiles called “The Motor” published two pages of miscellaneous short news items under the pen name LACUNA. An instance of the saying was printed with an attribution to an unnamed editor of a major newspaper:[ref] 1937 December 14, The Motor, “You’ll Be Interested To Know” by Lacuna (pen name), Start Page 917, Quote Page 917, Column 1, Publisher Sutton, Surrey, Specialist & Professional Press. (Verified with scans; Special thanks to Daunte Bolden of the Cleveland Public Library for creating scans)[/ref]

I think that the most accurate definition of news was the one with which the editor of a big-circulation newspaper used to placate the anxious directors when, on the morning after a big “story,” the furious protests, threatening letters and writs for libel were pouring in. “News,” he used to say, trying to get them to look at the thing philosophically, “news is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”

In 1939 a London periodical covering aeronautics printed one-half of the maxim about news and attributed the words to “a young reporter”. The remark about advertising was not included:[ref] 1939 August, Aeronautics [Incorporating Popular Flying], Volume 1, Number 1, Aviation and Interpretation by Oliver Stewart, Start Page 17, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Aeronautics, London. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

Daily papers furnish a comprehensive supply of news. They are supplemented by weekly papers. But news, which was defined by a young reporter as: “something someone does not want you to print,” is not the whole story. There are also those two: record and interpretation.

In 1953 Brian R. Roberts wrote a letter to “The Journal”, a periodical published by the Institute of Journalists in Great Britain. Roberts was the night editor of the “Daily Telegraph” who later became the editor of the “Sunday Telegraph” of London. He ascribed part of the expression to Hearst:[ref] 1953 April, The Journal: The Organ of The Institute of Journalists, Volume 41, Number 413, Forum, (Letter to the editor from Brian R. Roberts of London titled “Can We Be Gentlemen of the Press?”), Quote Page 45, Column 1, Publisher Institute of Journalists, Great Britain. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system) [/ref]

The job of the Press is to get news and to print it: and, as William Randolph Hearst once remarked, “News is something which somebody wants suppressed.”
It is not always a pleasant job, and I doubt if the Press has ever been popular, at least with the politicians, when it has been doing that job well.

In 1955 newsman Brian R. Roberts authored an article in the London periodical “Time & Tide”. He again ascribed the saying to Hearst, but on this occasion he presented the full version:[ref] 1955 October 29, Time & Tide: The Independent Weekly, Volume 36, The Offensive Against the Fourth Estate by Brian Roberts (Immediate Past President, Institute of Journalists), Start Page 1395, Quote Page 1395, Column 3, Published by Time and Tide, London. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

It is the job of the Fourth Estate to act as a check and a restraint on the others, to illumine the dark corners of Ministries, to debunk the bureaucrat, to throw often unwelcome light on the measures and motives of our rulers. ‘News’, as Hearst once remarked, ‘is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising’. That job is an essential one and it is bound to be unpopular; indeed, in a democracy, it may be argued that the more unpopular the newspapers are with the politicians the better they are performing their most vital task.

In 1959 a newspaper in Ohio printed an interesting statement contrasting news and publicity:[ref] 1959 October 14, Lima News, Capital Circus by Frank Holeman, Quote Page 24, Column 5, Lima, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive) [/ref]

Somebody once said the difference between publicity and news is this: publicity is what somebody wants to get in the paper: news is what somebody wants to keep out.

In 1968 a version of the adage was credited to Lord Northcliffe during a speech in the Parliament of Great Britain by the politician Jasper More:[ref] 1968 May 10, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons Sitting, Freedom of Publication Protection Bill, Speaking: Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow), HL Deb 19, volume 764, cc819-26. (Accessed on July 2, 2012) [/ref]

All this looks rather unsatisfactory in the light of the test that was applied to these things by that master of modern journalism, Lord Northcliffe, when he said: “News is what people do not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”

In 1969 the U.K politician Ian Gilmour published a version of the saying which he attributed to Hearst in the book “The Body Politic”:[ref] 1969, The Body Politic by Ian Gilmour, Quote Page 410, Radius Book/Hutchinson, London. (Verified on paper in revised edition printed October 1971) [/ref]

News, according to Hearst, is something which somebody wants suppressed—all the rest is advertising. Political news may be defined as what the government (or the opposition) does not want published, and political advertising as what it does want published.

In 1973 Malcolm Moos, the President of the University of Minnesota, spoke at the commencement ceremonies of Notre Dame University. He invoked a partial version of the saying which he credited to a journalist:[ref] Representative American Speeches: 1973/1974, Restoring the Tidemarks of Trust by Malcolm C. Moos, (Speech delivered by Malcolm C. Moos on May 20, 1973 at the spring commencement ceremonies at Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana), Start Page 148, Quote Page 150, H. W. Wilson Co, New York. (Verified on paper) [/ref]

Some time ago a very wise and skilled journalist and a member of Parliament in England made the very cogent comment that “news is something somebody does not want you to print.” He also went on to say that “the relation between the politician and newspapers are founded not on sympathy but antipathy.”

In 1976 a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia printed an instance of the maxim and ascribed it to Lord Northcliffe:[ref] 1976 December 15, The Age, “Perkin Stood For What Is Best, And What Is Best Is Universal: Truth is the Task”, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Melbourne, Australia. (Google News Archive) [/ref]

As Northcliffe once said: news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising.

In 1979 a New York newspaper printed a variant of the expression that replaced “advertising” with “public relations”. The words were credited to the prominent journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge:[ref] 1979 October 12, Finger Lakes Times, Editor’s Notebook: Changing Times on Genesee Street, (Epigraph to article), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Geneva, New York. (Old Fulton) [/ref]

Today’s thought: News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations. – Malcolm Muggeridge.

Also in 1979 a newspaper in San Diego, California ascribed the saying to Muggeridge:[ref] 1979 October 28, San Diego Union, World Radio Talks Do Battle On Satellite, Short-Wave Issues by Gwynne Dyer, Page C-7, Column 4, (GNB Page 68), San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank) [/ref]

“News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations.” So said Malcolm Muggeridge, and, true to his dictum, there is now a stampede to suppress a new means through which news might leak out to the world.

In 1988 a version of the maxim was credited to William Randolph Hearst during a speech in the U.K. Parliament by the politician Peter Archer:[ref] 1988 January 15, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons Sitting: Orders of the Day, Protection of Official Information Bill, Speaking: Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West), HC Deb, Volume 125, cc563-637. (Accessed on July 2, 2012) [/ref]

William Randolph Hearst used to tell his reporters: “News is what someone, somewhere, doesn’t want reported: all the rest is advertisement.”

In 1998 an interview with John Humphrys, a BBC Radio 4 journalist and presenter, was published in the periodical “Third Way”, and Humphrys connected the saying to Lord Rothermere:[ref] 1998 September, Third Way, Talking Shop: Huw Spanner talks to John Humphrys, Start Page 16, Quote Page 18, Column 1, Third Way Trust Ltd., Harrow, Middlesex, London, U.K. (Google Books full view) [/ref]

But there’s an old saw about what is news – I think it was Lord Rothermere who coined it: “News is that which somebody, somewhere, does not want to be published. Everything else is public relations.”

By January 1999 a version of the saying was being connected to the famous author and essayist George Orwell in the pages of the New York Post:[ref] 1999 January 29, New York Post, “QUOTE: After 22 years as a columnist for the New York Post, Ray Kerrison has retired”, Start Page 30, New York. (Google News Archive; Preview at database for New York Post shows quotation; Full article was not viewed) [/ref]

George Orwell said that journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

In October 1999 a slightly different statement was ascribed to Orwell in a letter to a West Virginia newspaper. In this instance the words were placed between quotation marks:[ref] 1999 October 11, Charleston Gazette, Readers’ forum, [Letter to editor from Peter Miller, Martinsburg], Page P4A, Charleston, West Virginia. (NewsBank Access World News) [/ref]

George Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations.”

An article at titled “15 quotes to inspire journalists” included an instance of the saying credited to Katharine Graham, the long-time publisher of the Washington Post. The article was dated March 2010:[ref] 2011 March 10 (date listed on website), Mediabistro, “10,000 Words: 15 quotes to inspire journalists” by Meranda Watling, WebMediaBrands Inc. (Accessed on January 20, 2013) link [/ref]

“News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising. The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don’t print matter a lot.”
– Katharine Graham

In conclusion, in 1918 an adage in this group of interrelated sayings appeared in a New York periodical. But even at that early date the expression was printed on a placard in the office of a newspaper editor. The location was Chicago, but the ascription was anonymous.

In 1930 Walter Winchell linked a version of the aphorism to William Randolph Hearst. In 1953 a prominent newspaper editor in England named Brian R. Roberts also linked an instance to Hearst. QI believes it is possible the press baron employed the adage, but QI does not believe there is any substantive evidence that he crafted it.

Attributions to Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) and several other individuals appeared later. The expression evolved over time, and the popular variant using “public relations” instead of “advertising” was in circulation by 1979. The linkage to George Orwell is very weak. Based on current data QI would label the adage anonymous.

(Much appreciation to Justin B. Alcorn, Daniel Gackle, and Mike Hunt who each inquired about this quotation. The question was constructed by QI based on these inquiries. Thanks to Barry Popik for his research on this topic. Great thanks to Daunte Bolden who obtained scans of the important 1937 citation. Also great thanks to Dennis Lien for obtaining scans of the significant 1953 citation. Plaudits to A., my always helpful local librarian. Special thanks to Dan J. Bye for pointing out the relevant biographical background information for Brian Richard Roberts. Of course, any errors in this post are the responsibility of QI.)

Update History: On January 12, 2015 several new citations were added to the entry and some sections were rewritten. For example, the 1918 citation with strongly matching text was added. Also citations in the following years were added: 1894, 1910, 1922 and 1930. The conclusion was updated.

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