Put It Before Them Briefly So That They Will Read It, Clearly So That They Will Understand It

Joseph Pulitzer? Alleyne Ireland? Lloyd Cory? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer once described the writing style he required from his journalists. He demanded brief, clear, forceful, picturesque, and accurate prose. Would you please help me to find citation?

Quote Investigator: Joseph Pulitzer was the publisher of “The New York World” and the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch”. He died in 1911. The quotation appeared in a 1914 book titled “Joseph Pulitzer: Reminiscences of a Secretary” by Alleyne Ireland.

In 1910 Ireland saw an advertisement for a companion-secretary to an unnamed gentleman. During the multi-part interview process, Ireland learned that the advertisement had been placed on behalf of Pulitzer who required considerable help because of his health problems and blindness.

Ireland’s success during preliminary interviews led to a meeting with Pulitzer himself during which they discussed journalism. Pulitzer contrasted the audiences of “The Times” of London and “The New York World”. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

The World isn’t like your Times, with its forty or fifty thousand educated readers. It’s read by, well, say a million people a day; and it’s my duty to see that they get the truth; but that’s not enough, I’ve got to put it before them briefly so that they will read it, clearly so that they will understand it, forcibly so that they will appreciate it, picturesquely so that they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so that they may be wisely guided by its light.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1915 “The American Printer” of New York reviewed Ireland’s book and reprinted the passage given above. Thus, the quotation achieved further distribution. 2

In 1920 Ireland’s book was reprinted under the following new title: “An Adventure with a Genius: Recollections of Joseph Pulitzer”. Thus, the quotation continued to circulate. 3

In 1977 a somewhat different shortened version of the statement appeared in the collection “Quote Unquote” compiled by Lloyd Cory: 4

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)

In 1982 Pulitzer received credit for the shortened version of the quotation in “Good Advice” compiled by Leonard Safir and William Safire. 5

In conclusion, there is substantive evidence that Joseph Pulitzer did employ the quotation based on the 1914 citation; however, the accuracy rests on the memory and veracity of Alleyne Ireland who worked as Pulitzer’s secretary at the end of his life .

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of the proper way to hold a pen from “Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms” (1893). Image has been resized and retouched.

(Great thanks to Jessi Gage whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1914, Joseph Pulitzer: Reminiscences of a Secretary by Alleyne Ireland, Chapter 2: Meeting Joseph Pulitzer, Quote Page 68 and 69, Mitchell Kennerly, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915 January, The American Printer: A Magazine of Printing, Section: Books As We See Them, Intimate Moments with a Great Publisher, Start Page 576, Quote Page 576, Oswald Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1920, An Adventure with a Genius: Recollections of Joseph Pulitzer by Alleyne Ireland, Chapter 2: Meeting Joseph Pulitzer, Quote Page 68 and 69, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1977, Quote Unquote, Compiled by Lloyd Cory, Section: Writers and Writing, Quote Page 383, Published by Victor Books: A Division of SP Publications, Wheaton, Illinois. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1982, Good Advice, Compiled by Leonard Safir and William Safire, Topic: Communication, Quote Page 44, Published by NYT Times Books, New York. (Verified on paper)