Man bites dog (journalism)

Man bites dog (journalism)

The phrase man bites dog is a shortened version of an aphorism in journalism which describes how an unusual, infrequent event is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence with similar consequences, such as a dog biting a person ("dog bites man"). An event is usually considered more newsworthy if there is something unusual about it; a commonplace event is less likely to be seen as newsworthy, even if the consequences of both events have objectively similar outcomes. The result is that rarer events more often appear as news stories, while commoner events appear less often, thus distorting the perceptions of news consumers of what constitutes "normal" rates of occurrence.

The phenomenon is also described in the journalistic saying, "You never read about a plane that did not crash".[1]

The phrase was coined by Alfred Harmsworth, a British newspaper magnate, but is also attributed to New York Sun editor John B. Bogart (1848–1921): "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."[2][3] The quote is also attributed to Charles Anderson Dana (1819–1897).[4]

Examples of use in journalism

In 2000, the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a story titled "Man bites dog" about a San Francisco man who bit his own dog.[5]

Reuters ran a story, "It's News! Man Bites Dog", about a man biting a dog[6] in December 2007.

A 2008 story of a boy biting a dog in Brazil had news outlets quoting the phrase.[7]

In 2010, NBC Connecticut ran a story about a man who bit a police dog, prefacing it with, "It's often said, if a dog bites a man it's not news, but if a man bites a dog, you've got a story. Well, here is that story."[8]

In 2011, a California man bit a snake, and news accounts made reference to the phrase in their reportage.[9][10]


  1. ^ "There's news in planes that don't crash". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 14, 2006. 
  2. ^ Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition, ed. Justin Kaplan (Boston, London, and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1992), p. 554.
  3. ^ Frank Luther Mott (1941) American Journalism. A History of Newspapers in the United States through 250 Years, 1690 to 1940
  4. ^ Recollections of the Civil War By Charles Anderson Dana, Charles E. Rankin pp. xvi, xix
  5. ^ "State Briefs" column of the Sunday, November 5, 2000 edition, page B-16
  6. ^ "It's news! Man bites rabid dog in southern India". Reuters. December 14, 2007. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]

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