Category Archives: Journalism

The AFR has lost its dictionary. And its style guide. And its subs

The Australian Financial Review claims to be one of the better newspapers in the country. But as is apparent from what follows, the paper lacks sub-editors who can spell or who have any knowledge of grammar.

Fairfax Media has an almighty big style guide, but the AFR seems to have thrown it out, along with any competent sub-editors.

All this is taken from a single article titled “Malcolm Turnbull wins support to water down race hate laws” on 21 March. Just imagine how many screw-ups there are in the entire paper. And the paper still complains it is losing readers. Guess why?

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In “an” move? Surely that should be “in a move”?

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“And the strengthen”? That “the” is dangling there like a limp dick in the breeze. Cut it off.

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“Portrayed” is Mrs Malaprop at her brilliant best. The word is “betrayed”. And “ths” one takes it is “this” with the vowel dropped en route to the screen.

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Pretense, not pretence. And yanked, not ranked.

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Will? No, it should be would. Usage is always hypothetical and possible.

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“The legislation” is singular. It cannot be later described as “they are”. The paragraph should read: “The legislation for the change will be introduced into the Senate first and has little prospect of passing because it is opposed by Labor, the Greens and NIck Xenophon.” And it’s Nick, not NIck.

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Outbursts of anger. Not outburst. Plural as opposed to singular. Got it?

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Not sure how Abetz is being described in the plural. Or did somebody include the obnoxious Cory Bernardi without naming him?

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Shadow minister for citizenship and what??? And surely, one uses past tense in sentences like this – had not has?

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Here, the word “to” seems to have gone AWOL.

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I know Steve Ciobo is a dunce, but should one leave even his sentences dangling like this?

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A comma in time saves nine. Just saying.

When the US bombed Al Jazeera, were journalists not prevented from doing their jobs?

The moment a Western journalist is treated in the Middle East in a manner that is deemed to be different to that in his own country, the West does tend to get rather heavy on the moralising and judgemental pronouncements.

Peter Greste, a journalist for Al Jazeera, the TV network that has revolutionised coverage of the Arab world, was given a sentence of seven years jail on what seems to be trumped up charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood came to power in elections in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring had resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who, at one stage, looked like having a permanent mortgage on leading the country, either on his own or through his descendants.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood began to do what all governments do – govern for themselves – and discontent grew among people who believed all the propaganda that had been spouted in the run-up to the elections. Finally, the military, sensing the mood and knowing that their intervention would be welcome, took over and installed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as the ruler. One thing has changed – the chief financier. In the days of Mubarak, it was the US; the Brotherhood had a money tap in Qatar and the military that toppled it owes its sustenance to Saudi Arabia which abhors the sight of an administration run by the Brotherhood. The Al Saud know that the day that fundamentalists take power in the Miuslim world, it will spell the end of their own reign and hence they do whatever they can to keep this brand of Islam in the cupboard as far as possible.

Greste has been caught up in the middle of this political snakepit. Egypt’s current administration wants to send a message to Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and that is what this is all about.

But in the midst of all the Western raving about the seven-year sentence meted out to Greste, one fact has not been mentioned: when Al Jazeera was doing some pretty robust reporting on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans had no hesitation about bombing the rooms in which the staff of the TV network were staying. One journalist was killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were in on this act.

Of course, this is not the first time, the US has attacked Al Jazeera.

That same US is now crying foul about the sentences meted out to Greste and two of his colleagues and claiming that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs! So who showed Egypt the way?

That the US has no influence in the Middle East has never been demonstrated in a starker manner. The secretary of state, John Kerry, did try to intervene, but was brushed aside. Why should Sisi listen to someone when he has a money spigot that leads to someone else? The Saudis have indicated that they will prop up any government that keeps the Islamists at bay and Sisi is perfectly happy to do just that.

ABC: incompetence is a bigger issue than bias

EMMA ALBERICI: Let’s talk about the economics shortly but I just want to stay for a moment on the politics.

What’s curious in this instance is that there appears to be little to no appetite in the US for a more aggressive military-style response from president Obama. Even the Republican John McCain, who led the push for some kind of US army assault in Georgia six or so years ago, is now urging caution? – The ABC’s Lateline programme on March 4, 2014.

RECENTLY there has been a great deal of debate in Australia over whether the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a government-funded entity, is biased towards the left or not.

There is a much more serious malady that affects the organisation and which is never raised: incompetent presenters.

The ABC has several TV programmes that are broadcast nation-wide and thus, it is reasonable to assume that from among its thousands of employees the best would be chosen to front these programmes.

But that is not the case. It is the same as in other Australian organisations – those who can suck up get prime positions. The worst case of incompetence is Emma Alberici who on a few nights of the week presents the Lateline programme, a news and current affairs round-up of the day, which, as its name indicates, is broadcast late at night.

Alberici has very little knowledge of foreign affairs. Her guests are often at pains not to expose her lack of knowledge. On one occasion, when she was interviewing an academic from Jordan about the problems in Syria, the man had to tread very carefully to avoid making her look foolish. I wrote to the ABC at that time – about a year ago – and they replied, acknowledging that there was an issue.

But Alberici continues in her merry. foolish ways. The quote above is another example of her stupidity. When the US is just ending painful episodes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, adventures that cost trillions and affected the country deeply, only a madman would be thinking of advocating another adventure.

Yet Alberici apparently believes politicians should be doing so. Any politician who did would be committing the equivalent of hara-kiri – but not to Alberici’s way of thinking. Indeed, one doubts whether she thinks at all.

Her guest, an American of Indian origin, went easy on her and did not castigate her for her silly question. Had it been someone who was inclined to be more forthright, she would have been roasted.

Alberici is paid nearly $190,000 and charges up to $5000 for public appearances. Given this, one would assume that she takes some pains to educate herself. She was a miserable failure on a programme titled Business Breakfast, but seems to have plenty of supporters within the management ranks. Else she would have been toast by now.

Writing the occasional article doesn’t make one a journalist

THE explosion of online publishing has seen a breed that knows little or nothing about journalism assume posts as editors, writers, and so on.

But when one comes to such positions without understanding the finer points of the craft – as those who have either worked for, or been trained in, full-time publishing ventures do – the danger of overstepping one’s bounds is very real.

Writing is a tricky business: English is a highly ambiguous language. That is just the beginning of the area where one can sink.

There is also the area of where one draws the line – there are very real laws against defaming and libelling people. Even veterans of journalism sometimes go a mite over the line and face problems.

There are some writers who make a habit of pushing the envelope – here, their editors have to serve as the sluice gates and reduce the chances of a legal issue arising.

In other cases, the editor should decide what is relevant to the story and not invade other areas which do not impact on the topic under consideration.

Caleb Hannan, a writer for Grantland, an online website that concerns itself with sport, and is affiliated with the ESPN sports network, appears to have made a habit of going too far, with disastrous results.

Recently, Hannan wrote a piece about the development of a golf club – and ventured into the background of the person behind the club, discovering that it was a transgender individual. A few days after publication, the transgender person committed suicide.

Hannan’s editor-in-chief (yeah, he’s that high up) Bill Simmons made a long explanation after the deed was done. And the site also ran a guest editorial detailing the problems with the piece.

The whole business is one that resembles a situation that would eventuate if a butcher was doing a tailor’s job: these people have little idea about journalism, they are just amateurs with great titles.

It’s a timely warning to all those who think they can publish and be damned.

Does the public really want to know the truth?

MEMBERS of the public are quite famous for lambasting journalists for not covering stories accurately or seemingly withholding facts from them.

If any form of corruption comes to light, the media is always blamed for not having exposed it earlier. The mainstream media, especially, takes an awful beating in this regard. Any little mistake – and they do make many – is leapt upon by righteous souls from the among the masses who make it their mission to blame each and every ill in society on the media.

But does this same public really want to know the truth? And when the truth is revealed, does the public act on it?
Continue reading Does the public really want to know the truth?

Pursuing Armstrong: a journo’s tale of triumph

WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.

But that is often not the case.

Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.

The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.

But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.

In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.

The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.

Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.

Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.

Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.

As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.

He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.

Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.

You can’t please everyone

THE story is told of a young man and his father who set out one morning for the fair, in a bid to sell their donkey. Funds were low, the rains had not come for a long time, and they needed some way of putting food on the table for the next month or so.

When they set out, the old man rode on the donkey and his son walked alongside the beast. But they had gone just a few miles, when they came upon a number of women who stopped and stared, and then started to shout at them.

“How can you ride on the beast when you have a boy of such a tender age? You are forcing him to walk while you have a nice restful journey. Shame on you,” they yelled.

The old man was taken aback. Ashamed of himself, he quickly stopped the donkey, dismounted and then asked his son to get up on the beast. And they continued towards the market this way.

A few miles later, they encountered another group of peasants. This bunch too stopped and stared and then started to rant.

“Look at that overfed fellow. He rides on the donkey while his old, frail father is forced to walk. Have you no respect for age?” they shouted.

The old man wondered what to do. He was leading the donkey and so he stopped the animal, climbed on top himself and both father and son rode on the donkey.

But they had not made much progress before they came across a bunch of people leading their own donkeys in the opposite direction. One of this crowd went ballistic. “Have you ever seen such a shameful spectacle? Here are two grown human beings, well-fed, and in the prime of life, yet both have no consideration for that animal. How would you like it if I rode on your back?” this man asked.

The old man had nothing to counter this argument. He asked his son to dismount and did so himself as well. They both walked besides the donkey after that.

But the story is not over. Several miles down the road, they were again criticised for making a young donkey walk when it looked like the animal was about to collapse (or so the accuser said). “Carry that animal, you blighters,” he barked.

When they reached the fair, the old man and his son were carrying the donkey on their heads. They could not sell the beast because people thought they were both insane as they were carrying a beast of burden; there were also doubts that the donkey was on its last legs.

Lesson: You cannot please everyone. Make a reasoned decision and stick with it.

Thomas Friedman, fraud supreme

WHAT does one call a writer who pretends that the life experiences of others are his own, and passes them off as such? A fraud? A poser? A plagiarist? I have not been able to find le mot juste.

Lest there is any mystery over whom one is referring to, I am talking about the diplomatic editor of the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman.

Friedman has been ridiculed by journalists like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, and rightly so, for his ridiculous use of language and his incoherent writings which appear in what is apparently the greatest newspaper in the US. (That tells us why newspapers are closing down rapidly in that country.)

I’ve always felt that Friedman is an average reporter but a nothing writer. He cannot think straight and comes up with the daftest analogies and ideas to try and convey some meaning about complex situations. He fails, miserably. Maybe, as Taibbi puts it so eloquently, his editors are drinking rubbing alcohol.

But this kind of intellectual dishonesty aside, I never suspected that Friedman was also making up the anecdotes that go into his reporting. That was until I read this great piece by the late Alexander Cockburn.

Cockburn writes of a time in 1984 when his younger brother, Patrick, was in Beirut as the Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times. Friedman was doing the same job, for the New York Times.

One day, the pair returned to the Commodore Hotel, the place where most foreign journalists were staying, after a bloody day in the field – Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war. Friedman went upstairs to write his copy, Patrick found his way to the bar and sat down with a glass of whisky.

A little while later, a Shia gunamn entered the bar and proceeded to smash all the bottles in the premises. He did not spot Patrick, who was, according to Alexander, left with two conclusions: one, that “journalists drinking Scotch were unlikely to be viewed with fondness by the fundamentalist gunman”, and secondly, “he was drinking the last Scotch likely to be consumed in the Commodore for quite a while”.

According to Alexander, when Friedman descended later, Patrick told him about the incident. A few days later, it duly figured in one of Friedman’s despatches. But by the time Friedman wrote his first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, in 1989, the incident had morphed into something that happened to Friedman! I checked it – you can find Friedman’s deceit on page 225 of the book as published by Fontana Press. “My first glimpse of Beirut’s real bottom came at the Commodore Hotel bar on February 7, 1984… I was enjoying a ‘quiet’ lunch in the Commodore restaurant that day when…”

Alexander put it down to Friedman’s monumental conceit. He is probably right.

But this is also fraud, pure and simple. It follows in the great American tradition of stealing and then calling something your own.

Why journalists are treated with contempt

NEWSPAPERS are dying.Circulations are dropping and owners are desperately trying to find new business models to keep their companies afloat.

One of the reasons that people in the US despise the written word is because of the amount of spin that is transmitted by journalists. And here is an excellent example of the kind of garbage that makes people ask whether journalists are in possession of their senses.

This is a case of a journalist swallowing spin from Google hook, line and sinker. Why does Google put ads in its search results and in Gmail? Simple. To make money.

The company gives a rat’s about who you are, what you like, or what you do. It wants to flash ads in front of people to make money.

Of course, your mail is scanned and, using word association, advertisements flash before your eyes. But there is one stupid assumption in this process – that humans are limited in their interests. There may be something that one is really interested in that one never mentions on Gmail.

That said, when Google spins about this process, pretending that it is doing people a great favour, a journalist should ignore it. Or else, rip it up and expose it for the spin that it is.

But no, this Los Angeles Times article swallows the whole explanation and takes it seriously. And the LA Times is said to be one of the better papers in the US of A.

Is it any wonder that people turn off papers in droves when journalists display the IQ of the common cockroach?