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Archive for July, 2010

The Sun’s donkey punch

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment
Sun donkey front page

The Sun: Insert mulish pun here

Following today’s Sun front page, quite a few bloggers have resurrected the tale from Fleet Street’s heyday about Blackie the donkey, such as this one on Jon Slattery and this one from Gentlemen Ranters (scroll down to the bottom).

Suffice to say, the Sun, like most things pachydermic, never forgot the kicking it got then and has always kept its donkey alert radar finely-tuned, especially during the silly season.

A just a couple of points to note: the whole Blackie episode inspired the title of comedy newsroom series Drop the Dead Donkey, and that Blackie lived out his life at the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon , where he died in 1993.

A Passion for Donkeys

Essential bedtime reading for keilophiliacs

The sanctuary’s founder, Elisabeth D Svensen once published a book entitled A Passion for Donkeys  – “A celebration of the donkey – its habits, its physical well-being, even its breeding”.

I know, because I was working at a magazine at the time and received a review copy of it.

I forget whether it had anything about Blackie in it or not, I just remember featuring it prominently to our baffled readers because of its title.

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Confused words

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Former NME writer David Quantick, writing about Keith Chegwin (hey, it’s a living) in today’s Telegraph, says:

Acts such as Milton Jones and Stewart Lee spend years developing an individual style and to have it mined by poltroons is insulting…

Poltroon? Poltroon means “an utter coward”. I can’t see quite how that fits In Quantick’s sentence: what’s so cowardly about nicking other comedians’ stuff?

Harry Hutton, on the excellent but now sadly moribund Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry website, once made the point that people trying to be archly archaic often use “poltroon” when they actually mean “buffoons”, or something else. I suspect that’s the case here: “mountebanks” or “rapscallions” would have served Quantick’s point better and made more sense. As indeed would “whoresons”.

Come to think of it, “moribund” is another word journalists get wrong, thinking it means “dead”. It means, of course, in terminal decline, lacking vigour or (in a person) on the point of death but haven’t quite karked it yet. But such is the systemic decline in good English in the media that you’ll quite often come across sentences like “The market in Betamax videotapes is moribund”.

“Systemic” is yet another word journalists have a lot of trouble with, confusing it with “systematic”. “The media reports skeptical arguments very poorly. I think it’s a systematic problem with science writing,” I read on a blog yesterday. The writer meant “systemic” –  of or relating to the whole system, rather than a particular, localised part of it. “Systematic” means that it’s all done to a set agenda or plan, as in “Police carried out a systematic search of the building”.

There you go: three clarifications of easily confused words, all stemming from a why-oh-why article about Cheggers and a writer who’s trying to be clever but is actually showing off his ignorance. Isn’t English wonderful?

Easily pleased, these Romanians

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The Telegraph reports on the exhumation of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, with quotes from son-in-law Mircea Oprean:

“I saw the bodies, my father-in-law’s was quite well preserved. I recognised his black winter coat with some holes in it.”

This, he added, was presumably made by bullet holes.

“If my wife Zoia had been alive, this would have been the happiest day of her life,” he added.

Michael Tomasky throws chairs for Obama

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment
Michael Tomasky

Tomasky: Free chairs for Obama!

It’s not odd that the Guardian blogger, and its American editor-at-large, Michael Tomasky should have supported Barack Obama’s bid for presidency – one could hardly expected less from our leading left-wing national newspaper.

But it is odd that he seems to have actively campaigned behind the scenes for it.

Read more…

First chink in Times paywall

July 17, 2010 1 comment
The Times behind the paywall

The Times: Knock-down admission price

Of course it’s early days in the new paywall encompassing the Times and Sunday Times, but indications are that what’s happening behind the Murdoch motte and bailey is exactly what everyone thought would happen: online viewers have left in TNT lorryloads. Everyone knew they would, that is, except perhaps for the benighted folk at Wapping.

In a bid to lure them back, Murdoch’s belatedly launched Plan B: knock-down admission prices.

Read more…

Scary mountains

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

From the startlingly talented David McCandless at the informationisbeautiful website comes this eye-catching visualisation of media scare stories 2000-2009.

graph of media scare stories(Click here for enlarged version)

The “No. of Stories” shown in the “Intensity” Y axis come from Google News, which I suppose is as good a source for counting as any. (Well, at least it’s a single, consistent source and he hasn’t tried to pull off any Michael Mann hockeystick-style “tricks” by counting half from Google and deriving the rest from Yamal tree rings, or whatever.)

The four highest peaks are, from left, the Y2K bug, the Sars quarantine in China, bird flu and (Dr Donald-duck-son’s greatest hit) swine flu. I would suspect that if the graph had started a little earlier – 1997, say – the Y2K scare would show a higher scare rating.

The thing to note is that all these media scares had no foundation in truth whatsoever. A fact emphasised by the way they all drop away at times of real scares: September 2001 and July 2005.

H/T Matt Ridley

The cooling world of Newsweek

July 10, 2010 1 comment
graph from Newsweek

This is either (a) a graph from Newsweek's famous "The Cooling World" article of 1975, or (b) a Newsweek sales graph

“He [Jon Meacham] ignored the truth that the old newsmagazine editors lived by: journalists who write to satisfy people like themselves will soon run out of readers.”

An excellent piece at commentarymagazine.com by Andrew Ferguson looks at the slow, lingering death of Newsweek, once an almighty titan in the newsmagazine stakes, a serious, heavyweight rival of Time and The Economist.

It’s a story of  greed, unbridled ambition, lust for glory, journalistic narcissism, the unprincipled forgetting of basic first principles and lots of sweaty, kinky sex.

Read more…