February 12, 2022

“All the news that’s fit to print.”

As noted by many sources, “All the news that’s fit to print” — the famous slogan of The New York Times — is linked to the date February 10, 1897.

The edition printed on that date was the first to have the slogan printed at the top left corner of the front page.

It has continued to appear there ever since on print copies of the NYT. (It’s not shown on the digital version.)

Previously, the top left corner of the first page had been used to note the number of pages in that day’s edition.

Contrary to what you may read in some books or internet posts, the use on February 10, 1897 was not the first appearance of the slogan.

It was initially launched in October 1896, a few months after Adolph Ochs became the publisher.

The paper had been struggling and nearly went bankrupt before Ochs took over.

He wanted to elevate the quality of its reporting and distinguish it from the “yellow journalism” newspapers that were common at the time. Such papers were filled with stories that tended to be lurid, sensationalized and often factually inaccurate or outright false.

To sum up his vision for The Times, Ochs coined the slogan “All the news that’s fit to print.”

It debuted publicly on a sign he had placed above New York’s Madison Square in October 1896. The sign spelled out the slogan in red lights.

Later in October, he had it printed at the top of The Times’ editorial page and used it in ads published in newspaper trade journals.

That same month, Ochs came up with what turned out to be a genius idea for publicizing the slogan and The Times. He announced a contest offering a $100 prize to anyone who could come up with a better slogan.

In 2017, NYT writer David W. Dunlap said in an article about the contest:

“Adolph S. Ochs had recently purchased the failing New York Times at what amounted to a fire sale. On the billboard and elsewhere, he tried to distinguish The Times from its competitors by stressing its gravity, thoroughness, accuracy and decorum. But he was a showman, too. He knew that a reward of $100 for a new motto would generate far more than $100 worth of publicity. He invited readers to coin ‘a phrase of 10 words or less which shall more aptly express the distinguishing characteristics of The New York Times.’ He probably had no idea what a sensation his contest would cause. Hundreds of responses began arriving at The Times’s headquarters on Park Row, near City Hall, in Lower Manhattan. Then thousands.”

The publicity created by the contest dramatically increased awareness of The Times, Ochs’ goal of making it a more trustworthy news source — and its readership. But it didn’t lead to a what Ochs considered a better slogan.

Some of the slogan entries emphasized the idea that The New York Times didn’t print the type of lurid stories found in many other newspapers, such as:

“Fresh Facts Free From Filth.”

“News, Not Nausea,”

“You Don’t Have to Apologize for Reading It.”

“It’s Safe to Read The Times.”

“We Propose to Demonstrate That Journalism Is a Decent Profession.”

“For Patriot — Simple, Good and Great; Not for the Degenerate.”

“Clean News for Clean People.”

“A Decent Newspaper for Decent People.”

“Nothing Indecent, Nothing Inane.”

“Clean as New Fallen Snow, It Covers the Whole Ground.”

“Cleanliness Is Honesty! Give Me a Bathtub and The New York Times.”

“All the News Compiled in Language Undefiled.”

Some seem to be versions inspired by Adolph Och’s motto, like:

“All News When Fit, When Not We Wait a Bit.”

“The News That Isn’t Here Is Not Worth Knowing.”

“You Do Not Want What The New York Times Does Not Print.”

“What We Do Not Publish ‘Tis Better Not to Know.”

“What It Doesn’t Print, You Don’t Care to Read.”

“Our News Is News As Is News.”

“All the News to Instruct and Amuse.”

“Such News and Views as Reason Would Choose.”

“The World’s News That’s Fit to Peruse.”

Some clever entries were acrostics, in which the first letters of each word spelled out “The Times” or “Times.” They included:

Treats Honestly Every Topic Interesting Men Except Scandals.”

The Information Mankind Earnestly Seeks.”

Truthful, Instructive, Moderate, Educational, Successful.”

Terse, Interesting, Moral, Entertaining, Sure.”

Truthfulness, Independence, Modesty, Energy, Science.”

A few slogan entries seem ironic in retrospect, given evolution of “The Gray Lady” into a liberal-leaning newspaper. For example:

“Courageous, Conscientious, Conservative.”

“Truth Without Trumpery.”

Ochs and his staff selected what they thought were the 150 best slogan suggestions. Then Ochs asked Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine and one of America’s most prominent literary figures, to decide the winner.

Gilder chose the slogan “All the World’s News, but Not a School for Scandal,” submitted by D. M. Redfield of New Haven, Connecticut.

Apparently, Ochs was not impressed. He paid Redfield the $100, but decided to stick with “All the news that’s fit to print.” It became the best known newspaper slogan of all time.

Of course, back in the 1970s, avid readers of Rolling Stone, like me, were more familiar with the slogan that magazine adopted in 1969 — “All the News That Fits.”

Did we know it was a humorous variation on the NYT motto? I don’t remember. Hey, it was the ‘70s.

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