A desideratum hitherto unfurnished

For those who despair of finding something worth reading in newspapers and journals carnned with the jargon-laden and often barely comprehensible effusions of overpaid, narcissistic ‘insider’ political pundits, inane celebrity-watching, advertising disguised as ‘lifestyle’ advice and the endless torrent of hyperbole for those who imagine sport is important, here is something that will more than fill the gap.

Longform is a website which carries links to an eclectic mix of long articles on a myriad subjects, some up-to-the-minute, some from as long ago as 1926 (a fascinating insight from The Atlantic into the grubby practices of newspaper reporting in that era — how little has changed).

And instead of being selected by an algorithm, the articles are curated by human beings who have an obvious passion for good writing.

Articles can be saved for later reading via services such as Instapaper. But beware — it’s addictive.

Why there is no corruption in the media

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

The forthright Fox News journalist

For, seeing what those folk will do

Unbribed, there is no reason to.

With apologies to Anon.

Our suspicions confirmed?

The venerable National Public Radio network in the United Sates has a story about a robot journalist (actually, a computer programme designed to transform raw data into news stories) writing a better story than its human counterpart.

It was created by a chilling Orwellian entity calling itself Narrative Science and its website promises to fulfil the wettest dreams of the Sultans of Spin.

At Knocklofty we have had suspicions for a long time that this breakthrough was actually achieved some years ago, judging by the relentlessly banal, cliché-studded drivel that passes for so much contemporary journalism, especially because most media are now controlled by flinty-hearted accountants and supercharged office-boys with MBAs rather than by journalists.

Obviously, robot journalists can be programmed to follow whatever line of spin, bias or mendacity suits their masters, exactly like the people now staffing newspapers and other forms of mass communication.

Media owners are always disturbed by the very small but still measurable risk of a journalist developing anything like a conscience or a willingness to question the data served up by governments, corporations and politicians; this new technological triumph means that Rupert Murdoch can slumber more easily between his satin sheets and dream dreams of even more perfect control.

It’s obvious that News Limited and News International must have had such a system for quite a while — probably Windows-based, too. It’s the only explanation for their Gadarene descent into the whirlpool of drebbidge they serve up every day.

Image found at WorldMustBeCrazy

The second oldest profession — Part 1

Three journalists, one from Britain, one from the United States and one from Australia, were talking in the bar of the best hotel in some ghastly trouble spot and after the ritual round of bragging about this scoop and that, the conversation eventually turned to how they had entered their profession.

The British journalist explained: ‘The great British parliamentarian Edmund Burke said that there were three Estates in Parliament — the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the Commons, but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate “more important far than they all.” I see our profession, frank, fearless and free, as an essential part of the political and cultural life of our nation.’

The American said: ‘Well, we were first with that . Our press was free under the First Amendment to our Constitution, which, unlike yours, is actually written down, so we have a guarantee in writing that our rights and our function as one of the most important checks and balances on untrammelled state power shall not be infringed.’

The Australian said: ‘They told me there was no heavy lifting, so I went for it like a rat up a drainpipe.’

Jeder macht eine kleine Dummheit

The Knocklofty dialect laboratory has been listening to Australian radio and television journalists struggling with the pronunciation of the name of John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

This varies along a spectrum from ‘Beener’ to ‘Bainer,’ indicating the Australian media’s usual uncertainty with anything that isn’t phonetically manageable English (not that they always succeed even when it’s that simple).

Given its Germanic origin, the correct pronunciation for this name ought to be, says the laboratory, something closer to ‘Burner,’ although the majority opinion among our dialect consultants favours ‘Boner,’ which they feel is more apposite as it is homophonic with the American slang word, which means ‘an egregiously stupid mistake.’

A case of anachronologia

The Knocklofty journalists’ consulting service was established not to provide ways of manipulating the inane, wretchedly pliable and disgustingly venal media to which they are enslaved, but to help to make life a little easier by providing information which will help them get past that deadline and into the bar that little bit faster.

Requests are frequent and often somewhat recondite; for example, the timing of the Italian spaghetti harvest, what was Joseph Stalin’s favourite brand of underwear or George W Bush’s inside leg measurement. These we take in our stride, but recently a very prominent journalist contacted us wanting to know the Latin word for chainsaw.

Our consultant did point out that such things were at best extremely uncommon in the Roman Empire but the questioner was so persistent that eventually our semiotics laboratory concocted a suitable word.

Keep an eye on your local media — it’s going to crop up one day really soon.

A case of coprolalia

tantrumFew nations can do the storm in a teacup style of controversy better than the English. The loathly Giles Coren, long a restaurant reviewer for The Sunday Times in London, recently threw a tantrum over the removal by a sub-editor of an indefinite article in one of his reviews.

As we eschew coprolalia at Knocklofty, we aren’t going to quote from such an intemperate vomit of bile and arrogance, but you can read it here and follow a number of links and comments through this silly and delightfully trivial spat.

Our Department of Literary Taxonomy classifies restaurant reviewers as a parasitic form of life very low down on the food chain of journalism; the most complimentary description it could come up with is ‘a salaried glutton employed to write thinly disguised puffery, usually as part of a commercial conspiracy with the advertising sales department.’

The point missed by nearly everyone who jumped into the tiff sparked by Coren’s outburst is that most newspapers these days are full of the sort of highly mannered tosh he writes; it is often hard to distinguish where journalism leaves off and advertising takes over in the welter of so-called ‘lifestyle’ sections, which occupy far more space than serious news and opinion.

If the print media are serious about reducing their carbon footprint they might contemplate giving narcissistic trendoids like Coren the bum’s rush and save readers the chore of having to dispose of three quarters of the great slabs of newsprint that newspapers have become.

Verb sap

One of Knocklofty’s junior researchers working on a media style analysis project used a certain search engine in a quest for journalists’ anecdotes.

He found a book of these held in an Australian library. It is filed under ‘juvenile fiction’.

We think that says it all.

Australian radio’s unique literary program

Australia’s preferred image of itself as a sports-obsessed nation of easy-going drunks obscures a vigorous and distinctive cultural life which manages to survive despite the Federal government’s ingrained suspicion that the arts in general are a left-wing conspiracy.

The publicly funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation does more than any other organisation to foster the arts and to provide information about events, trends and opinions.

Among the ABC’s many hours of arts programming The Book Show stands out. Running for an hour each weekday with a highlights edition on Sundays, it covers a huge range of Australian and international literature.

In the last week, for example, the show has featured an interview with Professor Hamid Dabashi, author of Authority in Islam, Theology of Discontent, and Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present, Future; a review of The Art of Apple Branding: Australian Apple Case Labels and the Industry since 1788; a discussion on Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen and another about crime writing in Holland, as well as many other subjects.

It also incorporates a regular short segment, First Person, a reading of published autobiography. At the moment it’s Child of the Revolution by Luis Garcia, an account of a childhood which began as Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba.

Its erudite and energetic presenter, Ramona Koval, is a skilled and knowledgeable interviewer and the show has a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

As well as airing on the ABC Radio National network, the show is available free as streaming audio, podcast and RSS feed. Don’t miss it.