Journalistic error

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Journalistic error

Postby Gavin » 19 Feb 2013, 17:36

We probably make grammatical errors on here sometimes - I know I often omit words, then I go back and correct this later. But we're not being paid for what we write.

One often sees journalism which is far more poorly authored than any article on this forum. We might expect this (sadly) from professionals working on tabloids, local newspapers and magazines, but we sometimes see mistakes in broadsheet newspapers too.

The Guardian is notorious for its spelling and grammatical errors, quite apart from its political bias (but then I suppose if you're a "revisionist" then there isn't any right and wrong). Here, though, is an example from what I consider to be a far superior newspaper - The Telegraph:

A professional journalist wrote:Pistorius then fired four shots through the bathroom door using his handgun. At that moment, he said that he was convinced the unseen target was an intruder. When he returned to the bedroom, he saw his mistake.


It's subtle, but it's there. The logical order is wrong. This should read:

Pistorius then fired four shots through the bathroom door using his handgun. He said that he was at that moment convinced the unseen target was an intruder. When he returned to the bedroom, he saw his mistake.


I'm not saying this is a gross error, but a subtle one, and perhaps one we shouldn't expect from professional journalists on broadsheet newspapers. I thought we might have this thread to cite further examples of this kind from time to time.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Andreas » 19 Feb 2013, 22:36

I'm sure everyone on this forum sees examples like this and much worse every day – logical errors, errors of content and meaning, and grammar or punctuation errors so bad that they distort or confuse the intended meaning. If someone can't express a thought clearly, can they think clearly (about a sequence of events, cause and effect, etc.)?

It reminds me of dialogue from a 1944 film noir, Murder, My Sweet (Farewell, My Lovely), based on a Raymond Chandler novel. An urbane villain, an older gentleman named Jules Amthor, says to the impudent young detective Philip Marlowe:

"My dear Mr. Marlowe, I notice in you an unpleasant tendency toward abrupt transitions, a characteristic of your generation – but in this case, I must ask you to follow some sort of logical progression."


"Your thinking is untidy, like most so-called thinking today."


We live in an era of untidy thinking.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Elliott » 19 Feb 2013, 23:27

What is an "abrupt transition"? I've googled it, with the word "grammar" appended, but nothing is coming up.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Gavin » 19 Feb 2013, 23:43

I'm not sure what an "abrupt transition" is, but I think it probably just means frequently making short remarks on different subjects. Changing the subject. Marlowe's speech is quite like this.

Funny you should mention Raymond Chandler, Andreas, as I've recently been listening to this BBC production of The Big Sleep. Toby Stephens does a great, convincing, accent for Marlowe.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Charlie » 23 Mar 2013, 21:10

I'm afraid today's Times dropped the following front-page clanger:

"Labour can salvage UK's 'lost decade' - Miliband"

Whoever decided to spell the word "savage" with an 'l' in it shouldn't be writing for the Times.

On a less jocular note, I remember our family mocking a local newspaper a few years ago because the headline one day was: "Nicked by the Cops". The article also featured the word "copper". As Gavin said, one could almost excuse such inappropriate language from a local newspaper. After all, it's probably fair to say that standards are probably a little lower there. However, I've seen the words "cops" and "coppers" used in two major newspapers recently - where's the formality?

Most days now, I spot missing words in broadsheet newspaper blogs. I'm sad to say, but it seems to be mainly younger journalists who are guilty of this, and presumably, whoever is paid to proof-read.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Charlie » 09 Jul 2013, 17:24

Here's the current top story on The Telegraph's website:

Justice Secretary reacts with fury as murderer Jeremy Bamber wins controversial human rights victory at Strasbourg, suggesting original authors of the treaty would be "turning in their graves".


Is it just me or is this rather ambiguous and confusing?

Just who is doing the "suggesting" here? The Justice Secretary or the murderer?

The subject and his verb seem to have grown apart, and a murderer has come between them.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Rachel » 09 Jul 2013, 23:39

I wonder if most journalists went to private schools and had Middle Class parents who taught them to spell and write at home.
If they went to my Primary and Junior School then I can not blame them for sloppiness and mistakes, although it is very frustrating that they get paid for shoddy work.

I went to a standard state Primary and Junior School. The level of English teaching was appalling. Every lesson in Middle School was "answer these questions in sentances" which was rarely marked. There were few spelling tests. There was no serious teaching of grammer beyond being told to put a capital letter and full stop at the end of a sentance. I still don't know what an "adverb" or "pronoun" is. Primary School was even worse. It was all child centred teaching on your own with very little practising with an adult. There was token correction of mistakes in marked work. There was no rigourous seriousness about getting every child literate.
My immigrant parents taught me to spell and read English when they noticed the school wasn't doing it.

I don't think it is fair to blame journalists or ordinary people for bad English if they got the same state education I did. I suppose I am also saying this because this thread is giving me a bit of a complex over my own low standard of writing. ;)

While saying that, I often get the feeling that journalists get their jobs through connections rather than through talent.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Grant » 10 Jul 2013, 10:56

Rachel,
I am a teacher who has taught through the laissez-faire atmosphere of English being "absorbed" naturally by children and am pleased to report there has been a swing back to a systematic treatment of spelling and grammar rules. This has been driven, in my opinion, by the national testing we have in Australia that sees school results available to anyone. This level of accountability has tended to focus teaching efforts. I'm assuming a similar approach to assessment occurs in England?
One obstacle faced by a number of teachers is they are now expected to teach material with which they are unfamiliar due to them being products of the above-mentioned unfocused approach.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Rachel » 10 Jul 2013, 14:41

I am glad things have changed in Australia, Grant. That is good news.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Paul » 10 Jul 2013, 20:17

First of all Rachel - 'sentance' is spelt sentence.

I don't know - were you spelling it that way on purpose to highlight a mistake, or did you not know how to spell it? You did spell it that way twice.

But, it's really quite tragic that your schooling never dealt with spelling, grammar, or punctuation - to name but three deficiencies (it seems a fair bet there were others) and yet it leaves me to wonder - what components of an English Language syllabus are left? Writing essays and 'comprehension', we did those as well.

Trying to remember English Language lessons is the most difficult - it's just a blur of verbs, subjects, objects and endless grammatical theory, without anything really standing out as memorable. With Maths one could say 'Calculus' or Trigonometry, with Science it could be creating an electrical circuit or dissecting an eyeball, with History it could be a major event studied - but with English, nothing seemed to stand out as such.

On the other hand it seems one of those subjects (maybe the only one) that was kind of 'absorbed' by steady rote. And why not - it's my national language after all. No activity in life will be as utilised as much, by me, as English Langauage. But I can't imagine how people are coping with this basic skill if they aren't being taught to spell and structure writing. Of course I know this has been happening, you aren't the first to mention it.

At primary school, all seven years I think (certainly last four), there was a definitive reading test for the whole school on a certain day or two of the late summer term. We did it individually, alone in the headmaster's office and he ran the test. There were about 100 words in ascending length and difficulty and they were on the rather rare example (in those days) of printed paper laminated in a plastic sleeve. The school had several and would randomly choose one per year as the test paper. Everyone that year sat the same paper. There was only one copy so it wasn't handed out. As I said, we individually trooped off to report to the office and sat alone at a desk and the headmaster would present the sheet and patiently listen to the answers. You could give up and 'pass' on as many words as you like I suppose. There was no negative pressure or threat other than standard examination nerves. When a pupil had finished he/she reported back to class and the next pupil on the list took their turn and so on through the four classes. In this way the headmaster, and so school, formally and individually tested about 120 pupils once per year. This was all up to age eleven, but one would sit the same test in exactly the same conditions aged seven. I went to a different building for the first three 'infant' years and maybe we didn't do this test the same way ...... but we still did endless reading and spelling.

Some of the words were repeated on different sheets, though only a few. I saw the words 'idiosyncracy', 'pneumonia', and 'pharmaceutical' more than once.

We didn't have to say what the words mean - just read them out aloud, pronouncing them properly.

The point I'm making as well, is that it wasn't just a test of reading aptitude but I found it actually assisted with spelling too - hundreds of words by the end along with the hundreds more everyday words.

I had already come across the word pneumonia and so knew it (and what it meant) and remember being smug because I knew I had got it right. I don't think anyone else in school did. We were only average 8 and 9 years old for goodness sake, and some people were 'deprived' (socially by family habit), but it's a snapshot of the standards aimed at in those days by an everyday primary school. It's not that long ago!

I 'won' the spelling test for all four years I attended, beating Junior 4 pupils when I was in Junior 1, 2 and 3 and obviously winning in J4. It actually became a pressure situation where half the entire school were spitefully hoping I wouldn't win. Quite nasty and sordid really, in a silly junior way. I got a minor prize like a small packet of chocolate biscuits and a certificate presented ..... and the contemptuous eyes of the rest of the school ! Another lesson contained in all that.

But you see the only reason I was so good at reading all those words on those laminated cards was because as I was so good at reading. And why was that? Because........ I never stopped reading and was always buying and borrowing books. Simple really, but how many people just never read?

It's like the old observation - if you want to get fit for cricket, go and play cricket.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Mike » 10 Jul 2013, 22:40

Grant wrote:Rachel,
I am a teacher who has taught through the laissez-faire atmosphere of English being "absorbed" naturally by children and am pleased to report there has been a swing back to a systematic treatment of spelling and grammar rules. This has been driven, in my opinion, by the national testing we have in Australia that sees school results available to anyone. This level of accountability has tended to focus teaching efforts. I'm assuming a similar approach to assessment occurs in England?
One obstacle faced by a number of teachers is they are now expected to teach material with which they are unfamiliar due to them being products of the above-mentioned unfocused approach.


I think the move back to traditional grammar predates NAPLAN, actually (NAPLAN is actually a fraud, in my opinion, for reasons not worth going into here). But you're definitely right about teachers now being left in the lurch thanks to their own beanbag-style education.

When I went through my Dip.Ed. in the late nineties, the whole-language rubbish was still all the rage among the academics (education academics, with a few honourable exceptions, are the most extraordinarily arrogant and ignorant bunch I've ever come across), but the wheel is definitely turning now. One of the people to thank for that over here, by the way, is a fellow called Kevin Wheldall who had great success with literacy in remote Aboriginal communities with a more or less traditional approach.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Grant » 11 Jul 2013, 08:42

Mike, we could spend many hours debating the respective merits and faults of Naplan but there needs to be some accountability in our system that is not "tick a box". As you're someone who's gone through teacher training in the 90s you won't be familiar with the inspectorial system. This process provided an external and objective assessment of teacher abilities. Sadly, economic factors saw this system junked in favour of merit selection where interview skills are more important than teaching skills.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Mike » 11 Jul 2013, 12:57

With that word "external", though, you've hit on the basic problem with NAPLAN - schools administer it internally, and, of course, routinely cheat. Unless it's externally supervised, like the HSC, it means nothing in my view.

Yep, the inspectorial system was way before my time. Sadly, even if it could be reintroduced these days (politically impossible, of course), the criteria for assessment anno 2013 would be all wrong; it would now be all about how "inclusive/student-centred/empowering/creative/sensitive to individual needs" your classroom was, rather than how well you conveyed information, maintained order (and interest), and kept the kids on-task.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Rachel » 13 Jul 2013, 13:41

Paul wrote:First of all Rachel - 'sentance' is spelt sentence.

I don't know - were you spelling it that way on purpose to highlight a mistake, or did you not know how to spell it? You did spell it that way twice.
.

I really did not know how to spell it. I did not even realise I made a mistake till you pointed it out.

I was quite shocked to read how high the standard in your school was.

Paul wrote:But, it's really quite tragic that your schooling never dealt with spelling, grammar, or punctuation - to name but three deficiencies (it seems a fair bet there were others) and yet it leaves me to wonder - what components of an English Language syllabus are left? Writing essays and 'comprehension', we did those as well.....

Writing essays was done a lot. They were marked in a token way. Sometimes if there was a spelling mistake we were told to write out the word correctly 3 times. That is hardly enough really, particularly if the child happens to be a little slow and needs a bit more help. Comprehension was the "Answer these questions in sentences" bit. There were only a few spelling tests for 1 or 2 years. There was no seriousness at all.

Paul wrote:...Some of the words were repeated on different sheets, though only a few. I saw the words 'idiosyncracy', 'pneumonia', and 'pharmaceutical' more than once. .

That was way beyond us in my 80's school. I struggle to spell those words as an adult.
Paul wrote:But you see the only reason I was so good at reading all those words on those laminated cards was because as I was so good at reading. And why was that? Because........ I never stopped reading and was always buying and borrowing books. Simple really, but how many people just never read?

It's like the old observation - if you want to get fit for cricket, go and play cricket.

As child I did read nearly all of Enid Blyton's 600 books :) but it did not seem to have helped that much.
I am guessing you are making that point that the children and parents themselves should make the effort themselves and practise. They should not rely on the school.
Perhaps you are right.
I respectfully disagree, but perhaps I am wrong.
My problem was learning to read in the first place, which my school wasn't teaching well.. I honestly don't think my parents should have been the ones to do it. English was my Dad's third language (perhaps his 4th if you consider the fluent Russian he deliberately forgot because he got no practise after he left Romania in the days before globalisation. He also detested the Communist regime so was pleased to forget it.) My Dad has an awfully thick accent when he speaks English and spells badly himself occasionally yet it was him who taught me to read and I don't think it should have fallen on him and my Mum considering how much we pay in taxes for education. It should have been the salaried English teachers whose first language was English. Bringing this back to the topic of this thread:
Should journalistic error be blamed on bad schooling many of us had?
Or should the onus be on the journalists who get paid so they ought to do a decent job?
Or is it a general zeitgeist?


p.s To Paul
It's interesting that there are only 13 years difference between us in age - (judging from your enjoyable thread on your Grammer school education.) Yet your education was so much more serious than mine and much stricter too. I don't know if it is because there really was a great change in education from the early 70's to early/mid 80's, or whether it because you went to a Catholic school. Faith schools sometimes have to a higher standard than the non denominational Christian standard ones. It might have been a bit of both.
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Re: Journalistic error

Postby Paul » 14 Jul 2013, 03:06

Thanks Rachel.

I think you are correct about the faith-based schools, more than would be acknowledged today. Strict enough religion fosters strict enough standards in other areas and strictness usually brings success. I don't know about other parts of the country, and I'm not trumpeting Roman Catholicism in whole, but I remember it as a fact that the RC schools in our area consistently outperformed the other schools. This was at Junior level and was repeated at the local comprehensive level. There were only two Catholic grammar schools in the area and to my knowledge they outperformed too. Certainly my school did, always.

The other area is definitely all-round discipline. It will be another world entirely now and one which would disturb me (yes, I reckon so) and then doubtless infuriate me. And that may even be just the teachers! I can't imagine any school now, from what I hear, having the sense of discipline seeping out of the fabric at all times, that my school had. Not so much an air of menace but a definite 'vibe' that certain things were allowed and also expected and other things just weren't and if you got caught..........

The curriculum has obviously become far easier, no matter how anyone tries to package it otherwise and that of course has come 'from the top'. It's inexplicable. Our leaders may be devious, but they aren't stupid in the classic sense. In fact it's somewhat worrying, although that day came and went long ago and we never noticed. I get the feeling as well that the curriculum has become fragmented into lots of little, silly and meaningless bits, with plenty of non-subjects involved.

I wasn't implying actually that the onus is on parents, although extra tuition from family can only help. I realise that it will be easier to say that as an indigenous English person, with English family. I can see it might well be more difficult for a family with English as a second language. But it is correct that the primary schooling should ensure that a child aged 11 is able to read, write and spell to a fair standard, presuming the child attends all the years required. However, I can only imagine the hellish situation where the pupils in a class speak 10 languages between them and only understand one each.

Remember we were reading lots of classic books in primary school. Reading in itself was an activity, like a separate module. Hence the annual Reading Test of 100 words. Every class always had a novel on the go, and we would spend time maybe every day reading some of it. Some days, the book reading took all afternoon. They were very pleasant days indeed. All the class became riveted with the story and they were classic stories - and so fairly trying. Even now I can remember days with the afternoon sun streaming through tall windows, with the whole class reading the C S Lewis Narnia chronicles, That would be Junior 2 in 1972. We moved onto 'Kes', 'The Call of the Wild', 'The Hobbit' and other classics as I've said in the other thread, mainly through all of Junior 3. Mr Quinn was a bookworm, the only male teacher (except the head) and my favourite teacher. He had us reading all the time. I remember one week, we didn't do any other work at all except read 'The Little Grey Men' all week. This was probably wrong and we did wonder ourselves in our little, grumbling, bolshy way. No maths, no anything other than reading. "It can't be right", we said.

When the class read a novel, it usually took the format of the teacher reading aloud for a few pages. Anyone could interrupt to ask to slow down or to ask a meaning. It wasn't too bad that I recall. Quite how much any very poor readers got left behind I'm not sure. After a few pages the teacher would select someone to continue aloud, for a page, or more if proficient and confident. That might be hesitant and stumbling with some pupils but they strove through it and were assisted. Some of the pupils had good voices to listen to - a couple of the girls if I remember correctly! The reading would progress around the class all afternoon. Some days though, we were told to get our book out and read for an hour while teacher did some other work. I was usually about 10 pages ahead (on the sly), especially if slow readers were operating.

I loved it all and ploughed through books with glee. I'm just fortunate to find reading enjoyable so most of primary school wasn't really a chore. I can never understand anyone who doesn't regularly (or always) read, both novels and factual or even technical stuff and who is indifferent when a good book is mentioned. But that's a rather selfish and condescending attitude and is only like myself having hardly any interest in languages, for instance. Some people mustn't like to read as a pleasure and that's their business. I read as the primary leisure activity and it has always been so, from infancy.

Still, I would say that even the worst performer at primary school would have surely left that school with rudimentary, or slightly more, reading ability. Most people could read adult classic novels by aged 11 and I would imagine had read them all (I had, except the definite girly ones) by aged 16.

I once read 'Black Beauty' in a very long day aged about 14. I had avoided it thus far, thinking I wouldn't like it (a girl's book?), but found I couldn't put it down. I can read quite swiftly but still comprehensively.

My grandfather was the real reason I learned to read so early and so well. All the same, I must have enjoyed it and continue to do so. But my grandfather put in hundreds (thousands?) of hours to my care and instruction. He lost his wife just a few months after I was born (I obviously cannot remember her) and my mother was his only child, and upon whom he then obviously doted. When my grandmother died I think Mum must naturally have taken over some looking after him. He was still coal-mining at this point. I always remember him being there every evening and he took most of his meals at our house. My recent arrival must have taken over all his attention and affection, though he was similarly doting to my 2 siblings, who came later.

Every family was more like that then though. Communities were closer and everyone had relatives close by. I presume other grandparents instructed their charges in similar ways. Here's the thing though - all the elder people I remember had all read lots of books themselves or were otherwise well informed on a whole range of topics. Everyone could reckon up in their heads with a non-decimal currency system and imperial measures. All the older people seemed to have lovely hand-writing. They all had very broad general knowledge. It was unthinkable that my grandfather didn't know about everything. And he did!

These were just very working-class people, many of them miners and their careworn wives.

I think it's just incredible how standards have slipped and been allowed to slip so far in such a short time. It's no doubt our greatest decline. What's inexplicable is that it's not as if the system was complex. It really was just based upon that which became an English saying or cliche, a play on words and an English custom, even part of the culture:

The three 'R's. Reading, Writing and 'rithmetic.

And that is in fact all we did at Primary School. They never fussed about anything more to be honest. We read lots of books, we inevitably wrote reams of stuff and we did all basic arithmetic, including %ages and fractions and albeit with some basic geometry thrown in. Hardly anything else, apart from weekly games for an hour or so. I must have repeated every 'Times Table' up to number 12, five hundred times each. Everyone left primary school able to read, write and at least multiply and add up. Surely they did?

Journalists who can't spell - how embarrassing.
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