“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed.” Or maybe not.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” 

This quotation is currently making the rounds on the web, especially on Facebook, and it is being attributed to the writer George Orwell.

The quotation has various iterations — such as “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” — and its origination has been attributed to people like William Randolph Hearst and Lord Northcliff (a.k.a. Alfred Harmsworth, the British publishing magnate of the early 20th century).

A discussion of the quote’s possible sources can be found here: Talk: George Orwell – Wikiquote

Beyond the source, how useful is the sentiment expressed in this bromide? Does it do a good job in defining what is and isn’t journalism?

I don’t think it does.

Yes, there are certainly things that people — particularly those in power — want covered up, and those things should be exposed. That is part of the journalist’s job, and in that sense, the quotation appeals to the anti-authoritarian in all of us.

But I am hesitant to say that this is what journalism is all about. To me, journalism is telling ourselves about ourselves — and doing it with accuracy, clarity, and efficiency. Sometimes that will include items that some people want covered up, but it doesn’t have to in order to qualify as journalism.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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