Posted April 4th, 2012 by debritz
My father, like his father, was a house painter. He wanted to be a teacher, but times were tough and he had to leave school at a young age to help support his family.
Still, he was a very wise man. He read widely in areas that interested him and he held strong opinions.
I remember him saying, about his own trade, that anyone could paint a house to suit himself, but not everyone could paint a house to the satisfaction of the people paying for it.
I'm a journalist, and I feel the same way about my own profession. Plenty of people can write but not everybody has the full set of skills a professional needs.
I think this approach to the craft is especially relevant at a time when the news media is desperately trying to reinvent itself in the digital age. In doing so, we must not forget our core skills.
When I tweet or blog about errors in spelling or syntax in media reports, I'm sometimes accused of being pedantic -- as if accuracy was no longer a prerequisite for the practice of journalism.
Recently, I've been having a minor rant on Twitter about journalists who misuse the word "allegedly". In news reports you will often hear or read about an "alleged robbery" when the reporter is referring to a robbery, pure and simple. What's alleged in the story is the identity of the person or persons who committed the crime.
If the court reporter and the sub-editor who handles his or her copy doesn't know how to use "allegedly" properly, then they don't know the law, they don't know the language, or they simply don't care. That is unacceptable.
I rail against people who confuse "deny" and "refute" -- words that have distinct meanings -- and those who believe there are degrees of uniqueness. Why? Because getting it wrong dilutes the power of the English language.
Oh, but language changes, I'm constantly told. Yes, but it should change to become more robust, not to become weaker. We should be adding words to the dictionary to make communication easier and more exact, not tweaking the meaning of existing words to the point where they lose potency and create confusion.
I'm by no means perfect. There are many errors on this blog, probably even in this post. But I'm working on my own here.
If professional news organisations can't leverage the huge resources and large staff they have to ensure that they get the basics right, how can they realistically hope to compete against the online aggregators and other cut-price operators?
The thing about being professional is that you do your job properly, you are acknowledged for it, and you get paid for it. Nobody's going to pay top dollar for a slap-dash paint job, and nobody should have to pay for consistently sloppy journalism.
When I point this out to other journalists, they say that budgets are tight and they can no longer afford the checks and balances that used to be put in place. I reckon that's a false economy that could ultimately lead to the demise of the established news media.
In the future, there'll be plenty of digital detritus but not a lot of solid, well-researched, well-written and well-edited journalism. What there is of any quality will be worth paying for, either directly or indirectly (through advertising).
It's my belief that, after a period of playing around with the amateurs, enough people will come back to the fold to make well-run professional news media organisations viable. But that's only if they are worth coming back to.
Posted March 25th, 2012 by debritz
Back in the day when newspapers were king, one of the big circulation boosters for Sunday titles was the weekly television guide.
The insertion of the A4 TV Extra magazine, which listed the week ahead's programs spiced up with celebrity profiles and gossip, was a bold experiment that sent Brisbane's Sunday Sun soaring ahead of its competitor more than 30 years ago.
It also played a part in the launch of the Daily Sun and the subsequent News Ltd purchase of Queensland Newspapers.
Other papers followed suit, and now most Sunday papers in Australia still have a dedicated TV liftout.
But not for much longer, I'd wager. There is one sitting under the remote control on the coffee table in the lounge room now, but I doubt I'll be consulting it.
Why are these guides endangered species? Because they are expensive to produce and insert, and in the age of electronic program guides and the internet, they are not necessary. With their early deadlines -- up to five days before publication -- and the TV networks' renewed fondness for last-minute schedule changes, they are increasingly inaccurate.
On top of that, Sunday papers no longer have a stranglehold on "breaking" TV news; the networks are much more likely to take direct control of these scoops through targeted webpages, viral videos and social media (sometimes disguised as "leaks".)
That's not to say that television gossip will be absent from the papers. If anything, there'll be more of it -- but in the "news" pages and other features sections, rather than in a dedicated space. With the exception of highlights, the listings will eventually disappear altogether as they no longer justify the space they take up.
It will be a brave editor who first pulls the plug on the weekly TV listings, but I think we'll see it happen within a year or two -- and the sky won't fall any more in terms of lost circulation than it already has.
Disclosure: I briefly edited the Queensland TV Guide in the mid-Noughties, when part of my brief was to cut costs.