A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 16, 2005
“Man bites dog”
What's news? The legend goes that an editor told a reporter that when a dog bites a man, that's not news. When a man bites a dog, that's news!

It is said to have started at the New York Sun.

{This entry includes research from the Quote Investigator.]


(Oxford English Dictionary)
man-bites-dog a. orig. and chiefly U.S. [see quot. 1918], (of a news story or event) arousing interest because of its bizarre or unexpected nature.
[1918 F. M. O'BRIEN Story of Sun x. 241 John Bogart, a city editor of the Sun..once said to a young reporter: 'When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.' 1933 Time 8 May 52/3 Man Bites Dog..is an inferior newspaper play.]
1943 Sun (Baltimore) 22 Sept. 12/1 He was expelled, so the news accounts say, from a UAW local in 1938. Since then, he claims, the company has transferred, fired, rehired and refired him... That may seem to some to have a distinct *man-bites-dog flavor.
1974 S. MARCUS Minding Store iv. 74 We provoked a tremendous amount of talk... We had created a 'man bites dog' story overnight.
1987 New England Monthly June 10/2 To any one who..heeded..the defense case.., any other result would have been man-bites-dog.

8 January 1862, Indianapolis (IN) Daily Journal, pg. 3, col. 3:
A DOG BITTEN BY A MAN! -- We have often heard of men being bitten by dogs, but never until last Wednesday have we heard of a man biting a dog. Superintendent Long, of the Poor House, told us that a crazy man in his care, named Eli Pitman, broke out of his room on last Sunday morning, ran out into the yard, and getting down on all fours commenced running and barking like a dog. Mr. Long's dog coming near him he called out to the dog, "I am a dog, too; you and I are of one blood." The dog appeared insulted at this, and raised his hair and went up to smell his new relative, when Pitman made a snap at him and actually caught him by the nose in his teeth. (...) -- Mishawaka Enterprise.

Google Books
The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories
By Jesse Lynch Williams
New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons
1899
Pg. 223:
“No wonder Senators at the Fifth Avenue Hotel like to have Mr. Woods come up and slap them on the back!” “No wonder he can make anybody talk about everything,” thought the new reporters, while the old one went on in his rapid style, “You’ll soon assimilate the idea. Now, for instance, ‘A dog bites a man’—that’s a story; ‘A man bites a dog’—that’s a good story,” etc., until in a lull there came the question—inevitable from very recent graduates:

“What college are you from Mr. Woods?”

23 February 1899, The High School Daily Echo (Indianapolis High School, Indianapolis, IN), "The Journalistic Spirit," pg. 2, col. 2:
To illustrate, Richard Harding Davis, at the outset of his course, asked of an editor, "What is news?" The reply came, "If you see a dog biting a man, that is too ordinary to be classed as news, but if you should see a man biting a dog, write it up on the spot; that is unusual; that is news."

Google Books
June 1902, The Inlander, "Journalism and the Law" by E. D. Perry, pg. 333:
"News," said the great Dana, "is hard to define. I can better illustrate. If you were to go down Broadway and see a dog biting a man, that would not be news; but if you were to see a man biting a dog, that would be news — write it up."

Chronicling America
3 August 1902, Omaha (WA) Daily Bee, 'Personal and General," pg. 14, col. 5:
The Buffalo Commercial relates that Richard Harding Davis once asked Charles A. Dana: "What constitutes news?" "If you should see a dog biting a man," replied Dana, "don't write it up. But if you should see a man biting a dog, spare not money, men nor telegraph tolls to get the details to the Sun office."

28 December 1902, Decatur (IL) Daily Review, pg. 7, col. 4:
In the city editor's instructions to the news reporter he said: "If a man bites a dog it's news, if a dog bites a man it isn't."

Google Books
The Story of The Sun;
New York, 1833-1918

By Frank M. O'Brien
New York, NY: George H. Doran Company
1918
Pg. 241:
John Bogart, a city editor of the Sun who absorbed the Dana idea of news and the handling thereof, once said to a young reporter:

"When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."

The Sun always waited for the man to bite the dog.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMedia/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • Wednesday, March 16, 2005 • Permalink