Saturday, July 29, 2017

If your newspaper doesn't have a slogan or a motto, now might be a good time to come up with one

Part of Bristol paper nameplate shows motto
By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues, University of Ky.

The Washington Post's Feb. 21 adoption of a nameplate slogan, "Democracy Dies in Darkness," is only the most prominent example of newspapers adding a promotional explanation of what they do or what they stand for. Two papers from Warren Buffett's BH Media Group have similar slogans: The Bristol Herald Courier says it offers "Truth. Accuracy. Fairness" and the Omaha World-Herald says it is "Real. Fair. Accurate."

Such slogans or mottoes are a good idea, at a time when the very idea of independent, professional journalism is under attack from the highest levels of government and widely viewed but partisan media. Newspapers' printed circulation is down, but they still have broad audiences and provide most of the accountability journalism that the writers of the First Amendment had in mind. Slogans and mottoes can not only remind the public of newspapers' importance, but remind newspaper staff of ideals and principles they should follow.

Post executive Editor Martin Baron told WWD: "We spent the last year trying to come up with a motto or slogan. It well predated the election, and we were trying to come up with some words that would capture the essence of our mission in a way that you might even put it on a T-shirt. We had a lot of ideas and it was all over the place. We probably had 500 ideas, I think, and we debated them endlessly. Then at some point, a decision was made."

But not by Baron; owner Jeff Bezos made the call. Baron told me he thought the slogan was "a little dark." But it displays nicely in the reverse type the Post uses on its mobile site. The line is "one that has been used periodically in the past" by Bob Woodward, the Post associate editor who as a reporter with Carl Bernstein broke open the Watergate scandal, The Hill reported. Baron's "first principle" for his staff is "Tell the truth as nearly as it may be ascertained."
The Post's motto appears in reverse type below the nameplate on its mobile site.
The Post's slogan brought to mind other newspaper mottoes or slogans (here's the difference), many at rural or community newspapers. Some, like most dailies' slogans, are more marketing-oriented. But others speak more to the journalistic mission and are less slogans than mottoes, which describe motive and intent.

For example, the Mason Valley News in Nevada is "The only newspaper in the world that gives a damn about Yerington." Other papers have used similar slogans from time to time, and still may. It's a natural; most newspapers' reason for existence is to publish news of their locality, and in most cases they own that franchise.

The best slogans are those that serve not only as a slogan for the public, but a motto, perhaps implicit, for the staff. One of my favorite slogans is that of The Blackshear Times in Georgia: "Liked by many, cussed by some, read by them all."

The Amarillo Globe-News still uses a saying coined by publisher Gene Howe, who died in 1952: "A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom, but never for lack of courage."

Some slogans or mottoes are implicit, as in the simple warning of hard-nosed editorial policy at the Aspen Daily News: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."

Others are also blunt and simple, like that of The Star in Johannesburg, South Africa: "Tell it like it is."

And there's one that conveys the same principle, but in flowery fashion. It was written by Lord Byron (1788-1824): "Without or with offense to friends or foes, we sketch your world exactly as it goes." Andrew Jackson Norfleet adopted it when he founded The Times Journal in Russell Springs, Ky., which still posts it on its editorial page.

Here are a few other slogans or mottos, some from a list maintained (but not necessarily updated) by the International News Media Association:

The National Post, in Toronto, has a motto ready for President Trump's claim that journalists fabricate things, or lie: "The news. You have our word on it."

The Irish Independent has a good slogan for a polarized time when citizens gravitate to sources that confirm more than inform: "Before you make up your mind, open it."

"Journalism That's Independent, Honest, and Dignified" (Un periodismo independiente, honrado y Digno)--Prensa Libre, ("free press"), Guatemala

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