118 Years Ago, The New York Times Crowdsourced a New Motto

It ended up sticking with the one it already had. 

Though it may seem like a product of the Internet, crowdsourcing has been around for ages.

Take, for example, an experiment run by The New York Times in 1896, when the newspaper decided it was time to replace its famous motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print."

The Times asked its readers to send in their ideas and promised $100 to the person who came up with the best new slogan. That was a ton of money back then—enough to buy more than 600 pounds of coffee or hundreds of dress shirts. They received thousands of postcards with suggestions. Many entries rhymed ("We use all news fit to peruse") and fixated on the newspaper as a "pure" or "clean" "family paper." There were also plenty of metaphors ("The Wheat of News Threshed of Chaff") and at least one acrostic: 


The Times wrote that it had received entries from nearly every state in the union—there were 45 of them in 1896—and singled out entries from women. Many contestants "wholly ignored the request for a motto or phrase of only ten words of less," the Times wrote. Some of the other ideas that readers sent:

"The New-York Times. Pure and truthful; clever and sound."

"What it doesn't print, you don't care to read."

"The top o' the morning to you, 365 times a year."

"Out heralds The Herald, informs The World, extinguishes The Sun."

"The Röntgen ray of journalism." (A reference to Wilhelm Röntgen, the physicist whose "Röntgen rays" we now know as X-Rays.)

"The best organized gleaner of news and sower of thoughts."

"All news complete our aim, without a blush of shame."

"All that's news without polluting; fearless truth without slander."

"The highest ideals of life in a nutshell."

"Filter of the world's action and of thought."

"Inspires patriotism, upholds morality, disdains scandal, encourages good citizenship."

"Pungent, pure, and up to date."

"A lover of humanity."

"No sensation to push its circulation, chief object being education."

"Buy The Times—We do the rest."

"The Times dares to print what people dare to read."

"The New-York Times, for news that is news."

"A lighthouse to all classes; a reservoir to the masses."

"In the best sense, a newspaper."

In the end, the Times awarded the prize to D.M. Redfield of New Haven, Connecticut, for his slogan, "All the world's news, but not a school for scandal." But the newspaper decided to keep its original motto in place.

"It is a very good motto for a newspaper," The Times wrote of Redfield's winning words, "and if The Times did not already possess one which it thinks better, Mr. Redfield's phrase would doubtless be accepted and put in use."

In defending the decision to stick with the motto they had: "It arouses curiosity, fixes attention, provokes discussion. The grammar of the phrase, we may add, is all right, rock-ribbed, ancient, and sanctioned by the best usage of the English language."

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Adrienne LaFrance

Adrienne LaFrance is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Technology Channel. Previously she worked as an investigative reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat, Nieman Journalism Lab, and WBURMore

Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gawker, The Awl, and several other publications. 
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