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.

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


  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

‘Dog Bites a Man’ Is Not News. ‘Man Bites a Dog’ Is News

John B. Bogart? Charles A. Dana? Amos Cummings? Horace Greeley? Jesse Lynch Williams? Billy Woods? Doc Wood? Alfred Harmsworth? Lord Northcliffe? Joseph Pulitzer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore one of the most famous maxims in the news business? Legend states that a neophyte reporter asked a sage editor to define “news”, and he received this reply:

When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.

This saying has been credited to several newspaper people including: John B. Bogart, Amos Cummings, and Charles A. Dana who all worked at the New York Sun. The British press baron Alfred Harmsworth who became Lord Northcliffe has also been named as the originator.

Quote Investigator: The earliest written evidence located by QI appeared in a book titled “The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories” by Jesse Lynch Williams in 1899. The adage was spoken by a fictional character named “Billy Woods” in a chapter called “The Old Reporter”. Woods was considered a repository of knowledge and wisdom by fellow reporters though his lack of a college education sometimes made him self-conscious. In the following passage Woods entertained young reporters and explained his concept of newsworthiness. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Then he would open up, put them at their ease, discourse interestingly about the traditions of the office, and fascinate them, as he could anyone, man or woman, who came in his way.

“No wonder Senators at the Fifth Avenue Hotel like to have Mr. Woods come up and slap them on the back!” “No wonder he can make anybody talk about everything,” thought the new reporters, while the old one went on in his rapid style, “You’ll soon assimilate the idea. Now, for instance, ‘A dog bites a man’—that’s a story; ‘A man bites a dog’—that’s a good story,” etc., until in a lull there came the question—inevitable from very recent graduates:

“What college are you from Mr. Woods?”
Billy always felt better when this was over.

The author Jesse Lynch Williams went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama. QI speculates that Williams was trying to achieve verisimilitude in his novel by relaying an anonymous witty remark he had heard from within the newspaper business.

By August 1902 a version of the adage was being credited to the prominent newspaper editor Charles Anderson Dana. Here is a short item from a paper in Omaha, Nebraska that reprinted information from a paper in Buffalo, New York: 2

The Buffalo Commercial relates that Richard Harding Davis once asked Charles A. Dana: “What constitutes news?” “If you should see a dog biting a man,” replied Dana, “don’t write it up. But if you should see a man biting a dog, spare not money, men nor telegraph tolls to get the details to the Sun office.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading ‘Dog Bites a Man’ Is Not News. ‘Man Bites a Dog’ Is News


  1. 1899, The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories by Jesse Lynch Williams, Chapter: The Old Reporter, Start Page 215, Quote Page 223, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1902 August 3, Omaha Daily Bee, Personal and General, (Paragraph size news item), Quote Page 14, Column 5, Omaha, Nebraska. (Chronicling America)