Recently, I was kvetching about the state of journalism with a woman who worked in public relations for the International Monetary Fund for many years. Many of her friends on Facebook were distrustful of the mainstream media, she said, and as a result they were badly informed. Maybe the media just needs a good PR campaign, we joked.
When I read that The Washington Post had debuted a sexy new slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness,” I wondered if maybe the paper was thinking the same thing.
It’s not uncommon for publications to have slogans, although not all do and few are as prominently placed as the Post’s. The one most people know is “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which still appears on the front page of every printed New York Times.
All these slogans are marketing, but “All the News That’s Fit to Print” was literally an advertisement. It first appeared on an illuminated billboard in Madison Square, as the Times sought to distinguish itself from so-called yellow journalism. The phrase, which sounds a bit puritanical and unmodern, has become less of an articulation and more of a symbol of all the lofty ideals the Times might pursue. Former editor Howell Raines wrote out all the things the phrase stands for in a 2001 editorial, including “a belief in integrity, fairness and disciplined judgment,” “a reverence for civic morality and journalistic ethics, a sensitivity about the appropriate and the inappropriate,” “a constant awareness of a professional burden, gladly shouldered,” and “our aspiration and the enduring contract between the passing generations of readers and journalists.”
“Democracy dies in darkness” is at least more direct and clear in meaning — free press, rah rah — even if it is a little hashtaggy and melodramatic (Stephen Colbert called it part of the Post’s “goth phase”). The previous slogan, “The paper that digs deeper,” was less stirring as a battle cry.
Other publication taglines range from utilitarian to self-important and delusional:
“The daily diary of the American dream” — Wall Street Journal, started as an advertising slogan, now shows up mostly in crossword puzzle clues.
“Nothing sacred but the truth” — This was the catchphrase for the New York Observer, until it was changed to “Money, power, and the city” on the paper and “2009 Webby Nominee Best Newspaper Web Site” on the website after it was bought by Jared Kushner. Editor Elizabeth Spiers changed it back in 2011.
“On Guard Since 1831” — The Detroit Free Press
“The World’s Greatest Newspaper.” — This was the longtime motto of The Chicago Tribune, later winkingly adopted by the porn magazine SCREW (now defunct).
“Truth, Justice, and the Comics” — The motto of Long Island’s Newsday, a nod to Superman: “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
“Give light and the people will find their own way.” — The motto of the E.W. Scripps Company, which owns a raft of smaller newspapers, since 1922
“The Most New York You Can Get,” “New York's Picture Newspaper,” “New York's Hometown Newspaper,” “The Eyes, the Ears, the Honest Voice of New York” — All slogans used by the New York Daily News
“Just a buck!” — The New York Post (just kidding, that’s not the motto, although it was printed on the front page for a long time)
“The Nation’s Newspaper” — Slogan used by USA Today, which is still the highest circulation paper in the U.S.
“If You Don't Want It Printed, Don’t Let It Happen” — The Aspen Daily News slogan is vaguely threatening. Unlike many slogans, this one is actually printed on the front page of the paper.
Love the Aspen Daily News slogan: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen." pic.twitter.com/jJSflIwtm8— Matthew Kassel (@matthewkassel) March 1, 2014
“Reflecting the Treasured Traditions of This Cherished Community” — The motto of The Villager in the 1930s, which was pilloried by the Village Voice. The Voice went by “The Newspaper That Can’t Be Bought,” a double entendre since it was free.
“It Shines for All” — The Sun, now The New York Sun.
“No fear, no favor.” — The now-defunct Aberdeen Examiner.
“Older than the nation." — The Hartford Courant
“From Pixels to Pulitzers” — One of the slogans used by Tronc, the rebranded Tribune Company
“It’s not for everyone, it’s for you.” — The Outline (subscribe here!)
And if you’re thinking of starting a newspaper or crafting a newspaper motto-themed joke on Twitter, you may find this newspaper slogan generator useful. I just got “No Newspaper, No Comment” and “The Newspaper of Confidence,” which are both pretty timeless.