Three mini-master classes from traditional media to show the blogosphere how this journalism thingy is done

Wretched, pathetic bloggers! Most of them can’t be counted on to spell their own names right, let alone do anything remotely like fact-checking. Too much actual work! No sense of history. No understanding of – or attempt to understand – context, in their pseudo-journalism! How can they expect to be treated with the respect owed any halfway decent source of information without curbs on their typing and behaviour — vetting and supervision by editors, sub-editors, copy editors?

Ahem.

from Private Eye, (No: 1399, 21 August – 3 September), an item titled CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 1:

Our Magazine commemorative special ‘The reign never stops’ (last week) included a number of inaccuracies. The Queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, not February 8. She married the Duke of Edinburgh six years before her coronation, not four. Her eldest grandson is Peter Phillips, not Prince William. Her uncle, Edward VIII, was King when he abdicated, not Prince of Wales. The photograph of the Queen and Princess Anne at Balmoral shows them with Peter Phillips, not his sister Zara. The battleship HMS Vanguard was not converted into a royal yacht. It was temporarily adapted to take the royal family to South Africa in 1947 but reverted to normal service afterwards. We apologise for these errors.

The Sunday Times, 9 August 2015

… and on the facing page in the same issue, the arguably even more astounding CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 2 — from a sister newspaper:

Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as ‘the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years’. This should, of course, have read ‘non-Italian’. We apologise for the error.

The Times, 11 August 2015

Rich newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, with their armies of text-massagers, are not the only large media operations to give one pause. Still, the following correction by a senior staffer at the world’s greatest, undefeated world-champion broadcasting organisation could be the nicest mea culpa we have ever read — but do pass the paper tissues, our eyes are streaming …

from the Eye’s Media News column, (No: 1400, 4-17 September 2015):

The BBC’s local news bulletin South East Today was out in force at Biggin Hill to cover the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on 18 August, closing its show with footage of the day’s flypast of Spitfires and Hurricanes accompanied by suitably rousing martial music. Or rather, unsuitably rousing martial music.

‘You keenly spotted the music from the film Battle of Britain composed by Roy Goodwin which was a terrific soundtrack,’ programme editor Quentin Smith replied to a viewer who had emailed him about the programme. ‘Our team was asked for the Battle of Britain theme from the film and unfortunately took that to be the opening music to the film which, as you rightly point out, is the “Luftwaffe March”. I hope it did not spoil your enjoyment of the occasion too much.’

… About that first item, we’d say, howler of the year? More like a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

At last, a professor emerita — buried in a print letters column — has the right answer for evolutionary biologists justifying infidelity as an exclusively male biological necessity

 

roos in spring 3 postgutenberg@gmail.com

Mating season at the Melbourne Zoo — photographs by postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

For those of us who relish a sharp debate with a truthful, witty opponent, discovering someone so talented lurking in a Letters to the Editor column of a print newspaper — and not the comments section of the paper’s site — is nearly tragic.

Never mind that papers have been reproducing these columns online for at least two decades. A dazzling argument deserves a response from the widest possible audience — at the very least, a towering mound of bouquets. Online commenters do not usually debate old-fashioned communications directed to editorial ears.

The letter to The New York Times below, from Luci Paul — a professor emerita of psychology — is an example of the kind of commentary that raises the game in a well-run online comments section. It attracts other excellent debaters, and the conversation that follows can be far more stimulating and enlightening than the article or essay that is its subject. Well-established corps of comments contributors could form the core of a new economic model for media — as we have been pointing out on this site for some time.

Professor Paul’s missive was aimed at one of the oldest arguments in defence of male infidelity, a claim that evolutionary biologists have been inflicting on the rest of us — largely unchallenged — for as long as their discipline has existed. It appeared dressed up in new tat — justifications rooted in genes and hormones — in a NYT essay published on 24 May.

At the top of the letters it drew, Henry J. Friedman, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, spoke for the wilful romantics among us when he said: ‘Dr. [Richard A. Friedman] attributes power of influence to two hormones that undoubtedly have their effect on our bodies, but in extending their effect to the mind and promiscuous sexuality, he leads readers to make conclusions about sexual behavior that are unwarranted and hardly shared by the majority of clinical psychiatrists.’

Professor Paul’s reaction, the last in the column, is the argument we have been waiting all our lives to hear from someone in a position of responsibility. Do not be misled by the unimpeachable, dry, academic prose. This is a woman not merely wise but with a delectable, barbed sense of humour:

To the Editor:

Richard A. Friedman nicely characterizes the genetic and neurohormonal bases for infidelity, but I must challenge his view of its evolutionary value to the sexes. He sees male infidelity as evolutionarily rational: the more partners, the more offspring. Since that equation does not hold for women, he suggests that women’s infidelity is mere frivolous fun, likely based in sensation-seeking and activation of reward circuits by sex.

Because women’s reproductive success depends on genetic quality of offspring and resources to support lengthy gestation and rearing, there is clear adaptive value to female infidelity. The more partners a woman has, the more men she can tap for resources to help rear her children, especially in difficult times.

Second, if a woman carefully chooses extramarital partners, her offspring will carry genes superior to those of her marital partner. Third, different fathers for different children promotes genetic diversity, not a trivial matter given that genetic diversity is the main advantage to sexual reproduction. These advantages suggest not only that women would wander in the face of marital difficulties, but also that a tendency for sexual exploration has a firm adaptive value.

LUCI PAUL

Staten Island

The writer is associate professor emerita of psychology, Temple University.

 

Will Charlie Hebdo lead the way to media’s still misty, co-owned future?

 

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– postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

[ Late addition: support for an impression of growing disenchantment with hierarchy as a form of organisation came from a surprising source, yesterday. Never mind if it only amounts to a single ‘data point’ — in a short essay by a pilot-turned-architect reflecting on the Germanwings plane intentionally crashed in the Alps earlier this week. See footnote. ]

If ever arguing about a proposal seemed superfluous – because a kindergartener could convince the child on the next play stool of its merits – that would be true of the insistence, by staff members who survived the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, that they deserve ownership stakes in the agent provocateur newspaper, as they risk their lives by carrying on after the bloodbath. An item in The Wall Street Journal last week said:

Some staff members live under round-the-clock police protection, with armored policemen wielding automatic weapons stationed in front of their homes.

Making a paper’s workers co-owners is going only halfway towards what post-Gutenberg sees as a necessary bow to the egalitarian spirit of net-centred life – rejecting hierarchies in favour of structures that value every contribution to the welfare of the enterprise.

Including readers and commenters as co-owners would be even better — certainly do more for economic stability and growth — if enough thought and care were put into adapting the rules and culture of organisations to make sure that efficiency was preserved.

But at Charlie Hebdo, even politically radical major shareholders have, so far, declined to let staffers share the tidal wave of cash flowing into the paper’s coffers – nearly £22 million, since the jihadist attacks on 7 January.

That is, … as far as we can tell. Updates on the dispute are hard to come by because the most famous names in journalism tilting left have been ignoring it altogether. Nothing in The New York Times or Guardian whatsoever, so far, unless we have been typing the wrong terms into search boxes. All the big brand-name papers on the political right have run reports, including three of Rupert Murdoch’s stars — The Times in the U.K., The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., and in his homeland, The Australian — as well as the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

We are guessing that behind their straightforward news stories on the subject, right-wing editors are sniggering discreetly about idealistic leftie journalists at the French satirical weekly quarrelling about filthy lucre — while co-ownership is an awkward subject for their counterparts on the left, who know that it makes perfect sense, but cannot bring themselves to make any significant move towards it.

The Telegraph report last week said, in part:

Eleven staff members have called for all employees to become equal shareholders in the magazine, setting them up for a battle with the current management.

Charlie Hebdo is currently 40 percent owned by the parents of Charb, the former director of the magazine who was killed in the January 7 attacks, 40 percent by cartoonist Riss, who is recovering in hospital from shoulder wounds and 20 percent by joint manager Eric Portheault.

But one of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, Laurent Leger, stunned the editorial conference on Wednesday by announcing the creation of a group to open talks on an equal division of the magazine’s capital.

[…]

…[H]e said in [a] letter that a more equal division of the funds would allow more “transparency”.

“The wider the control, the more decisions will be taken collectively and that’s better for everyone,” … **

There was an echo of Leger’s words in a post on the website of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab — ‘In media companies, the editorial staff shouldn’t be kept in the dark about finances’ — by Celeste Lecompte, a senior manager at Gigaom, an online American publisher specialising in blogging about technology, which abruptly went out of business earlier this month:

Our industry is undergoing incredible changes, and finding a way to thrive amid the new economic and technology context is critical …. Managers with direct budget responsibility tend to focus on meeting goals and targets in the short term. But when other employees have access to this information, they can contribute to the conversation in different ways, supporting and critiquing strategic efforts.**

If a co-owned Charlie Hebdo emerges from horror of eleven staff members murdered in plain sight, that will be at the top of the class of unlikely geneses – just right for now, with T. S. Eliot’s cruellest month getting ready to breed, from land seemingly beyond resurrection, its improbable lilacs …

Something else in that category, and in the realm of publishing — only a long time ago, in 16th-century Venice, is the life of a co-inventor of italic type. At post-Gutenberg, we find the typeface useful, but would list, at the top of reasons why we have never much liked it, that it is irritatingly spidery and insubstantial and dainty-bordering-on-effete. So. Who collaborated, dear reader, with Aldus Manutius – an early printer, in the Gutenberg hall of fame — in the creation of italics? The answer, a small feast of the bizarre — in a review of an exhibition devoted to Aldus in the NY Times last month — is that he was …

… the type cutter Francesco Griffo, a shadowy fellow who broke with Aldus acrimoniously and then slugged a man to death with an iron bar before reputedly meeting his own demise at the end of a hangman’s rope. Italics, which were intended to mimic the humanist handwriting of the day, first appeared in a modest five words in a 1500 edition of the letters of St. Catherine …

Yes, … italics.

** After we posted this entry, we read an essay by Andrew McGee in The New York Times that — incidentally — made the same point as Laurent Leger and Celeste Lecompte in another sphere – airline safety:

In the 1960s and ’70s, several crashes were judged primarily a result of pilot error, some stemming from the hierarchical relationship between the captain and the co-pilot. Co-pilots were often afraid to challenge the captain’s decisions, and the results could be disastrous. In training, they played us a cockpit voice recording of a co-pilot timidly telling the captain they were running out of fuel; he didn’t mention it again before the engines flamed out.

Daffy spring doggerel break: from a treasured comments archive on the net, and a beloved doggerelist

Daffodils: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

daffy cornucopia 2

An experience of helpless laughter … one of the most memorable in that category, ever?

Blame a doggerelist’s contributions to a discussion of William Wordsworth’s best-known poem in a 2007 thread on The Guardian’s books blog, one with no shortage of literary scholars weighing in. It comes to mind every spring — with heartache. We miss the doggerelist, @cynicalsteve — a scientist with a fine Cambridge pedigree and excellent taste in literature; a dearly cherished, cherishing, invisible, net friend snatched before his time by the Reaper.

The tone for the most impish reactions in that comments section was set by an irreverent post by Sam Jordison:

Terrible poet – great museum

Wordsworth’s appalling ‘Daffodils’ seems to me a terrible advertisement for the Lakes. But the Grasmere museum is just terrific.

Before we reproduce a few choice extracts – not necessarily in the right chronological order: please quote this thread whenever you have to suffer yet another blinkered enemy of commenters claiming that virtually all web comments are the work of evil trolls.

Finally, research is supporting those of us insisting for about a decade that comment sections are often friendly and enlightening places. The New York Times reported last month that

Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a psychology professor at Skidmore College […] and her co-authors Aneta K. Molenda and Charlotte R. Cramer analyzed comments from three sources (The New York Times, the Discover magazine science blog and a Facebook group for science buffs) … They found some encouraging signs: Positive comments were more common than negative ones.

And here’s proof … although anyone appalled by English schoolboy wit gone off-leash will please stop reading after the second comment by @freepoland:

cynicalsteve 25 Apr 2007 1:35

I thought it was only me that thought the daffodil poem was a piece of third rate doggerel. It’s main drawback is the schoolboy-like monotonous rhythm of the piece – “I WANdered LONEly AS a CLOUD…”

Anyhow, it’s much improved in the real schoolboy version:

I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high oer hill and dale When all at once I saw a pub And went in for a pint of ale.

liberaldogooder 25 Apr 2007 2:22

Seems just a little unfair to slag off a great writer by more or less sole reference to perceptions of their most popular work, which by its nature isn’t normally going to be their most challenging. (with Wordsworth ‘The Preludes’ already been mentioned, but then you have ‘Immortality’, ‘Tintern Abbey’, ‘The Leech Gatherer’, etc, where tons of stuff are going on under the hood). By these standards Dickens is a writer of sentimental childrens’ tales, Chaucer a teller of dirty stories and TS Eliot a dyed-in-the-wool registered cat fetishist.

But having said that it’s a great way to cause controversy – I think you should put up a thread entitled ‘Shakespeare was shit’, and then we can play ‘The Ride of the Valkryes’, as the ranters come down on you like a wolf on the fold.

Henuttawy 25 Apr 2007 4:08

Well I blame anthologies for endlessly re-printing “Daffodils”. It appears so often, we are led to think that it’s great verse. But I personally think it comes so perilously near to doggerel that I wonder if Wordsworth was actually being a bit tongue-in-cheek when he wrote it.

Still, I wouldn’t say that he’s the best of the Romantics anyway – not by a long, long way. Keats was much better. And Byron, of course.

freepoland 25 Apr 2007 4:16

Nobody has improved on J.K.Stephen’s commentary on Wordsworth:

Two voices are there: one is of the deep; It learns the storm-cloud’s thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep: And one is of an old half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep And, Wordsworth, both are thine. […]

israelvisitor 25 Apr 2007 4:20

I like “Daffodils”; I even knew it by heart once. Not maybe one to be put to a class of ten-year-old boys, though, who would instinctively vie to be the most openly unimpressed by it.

The rhyme of “gay” with “company” could quite easily be seen as bold and innovative, for what it’s worth.

The wild daffodils beside Ullswater – were they the ones that inspired Wordsworth? – certainly impressed me, when I saw them in 1980: they are not your garden King Alfreds, but delicate little wild ones that do flutter in the breeze, and are present in seemingly illimitable numbers along the shore. (In this way they contrast with WW’s solitude – and I am sure that even in the pluvial Lake District, solitary clouds are to be seen.)

[…]

No, I don’t think “Daffodils” is a crap poem. I think it’s nice. But I’m aware that many would say that means the same thing…

freepoland 25 Apr 2007 5:39

… Wordsworth and money were a curious combination. Raisley Calvert’s legacy enabled him to live out an idyll at Dove Cottage, where it is usually said he did his best work. Later, he took Lord Lonsdale’s shilling and the post of controller of Stamps for Westmorland. Poets shouldnt be wealthy. His career trajectory was rather modern, and his ideals probably suffered, but it is difficult to locate a socialist poet in the period 1800-1850. Ideals were a good deal more cerebral than fifty years later. Above, I suggested he was not perhaps worthy of the title of 3rd best poet, but at least he had a crack at the epic, and The Prelude has some good things in it. A useful comparison is with Tennyson, whose command of the technicalities of language were as good as WW’s, but who reads Idylls of the King now? Undergraduates are still subjected to the Prelude, and usually come out with something worthwhile. My favourite is Michael, and if you stroll up Helvellyn out of Grasmere and sit down there to read it, you get a real feel for what Wordsworth thought of as the rustic life and its disappointments.

cynicalsteve 26 Apr 2007 4:51

I wandered, desperate for a piss Whilst walking by the Canyon Grand Dare I let fly o’er the abyss? Or should I use a rubber band….

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daffy long Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 00.47.37