Home / View Point / Not me and the media, mih dear! Earl Best looks at linguistic sloppiness in the media

Not me and the media, mih dear! Earl Best looks at linguistic sloppiness in the media

In Trinidad and Tobago, my late brother Lloyd Best used to say repeatedly to the handful of brave souls who read his columns regularly, people walk about with their heads empty. Given that he left us more than eight years before the Rowley Government came to power in September of 2015, one might marvel at his perspicacity.

Certainly, both the politicians and several of the media personnel in the public eye these days seem to add petrol to the fire of the empty heads perception.

Photo: What are we doing tonight, brain? (Courtesy Shannan Muskopf on Flickr)
Photo: What are we doing tonight, brain?
(Courtesy Shannan Muskopf on Flickr)

For example, the Prime Minister yesterday treated us to a virtual peroration before eventually telling us that he has “no ailments, (…) no symptoms which can prevent me at this time from conducting my duties to which I have been assigned.”

“…conducting my duties”? There are those who may conclude from the form if not the content of just those 20-odd words that there are clear symptoms of something deeper. But for the moment let us let that pass.

No such easy passage for the TV6 ace political reporter. I’m not 100% certain but I thought I heard him twice in his report talk about the PM’s “prostrate.” Attempts to confirm that on tv6tnt.com suggested I was wrong.

“Unless,” someone in the know suggested, “it was re-voiced, which is not hard to do.”

If I am right, it is something the channel’s editors should not take lying down!

On, then, to a paragraph in yesterday’s lead story which has the crosshead, “Disappointed with the Express.”

It reports the prime minister as being unhappy with the paper’s reporting on its front page, “rumour about my health and throat cancer, coming from somebody who knows absolutely nothing about me, a person who is not a doctor, a person who is clearly using and speculating on the worst…”

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

You would hope that the #1 paper would be in a position to categorically refute any such claim; the refutation, however, is not categorical.

“Contrary to what the Prime Minister said, the Express did not report any rumour on his health,” the story ends, “on its front page.”

In those last four words, perhaps, are to be found the seeds of the problem that ails, in my view, the media in T&T: there is no real unshakeable commitment to the highest standards of journalism.

But the people to whom Lloyd referred weren’t just politicians and media personnel in general; I would like to point fingers especially at the people who report sport.

Here are a few reasons. On the midday news on i95.5FM on Thursday, Head of News Dale Enoch informed listeners that with his first throw in the Open Javelin Event at the Rio Olympics on the previous night, T&T’s defending champion Keshorn Walcott had managed to throw the spear “88.68 seconds”.

Having hesitated briefly, presumably to give himself time to think about it, he came up with “seconds”.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott competes in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 20 August 2016.  Walcott snared bronze with a throw of 85.38 metres. (Copyright Franck Fife/AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott competes in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 20 August 2016. 
Walcott snared bronze with a throw of 85.38 metres.
(Copyright Franck Fife/AFP 2016/Wired868)

Now that is arguably a forgivable mistake—even for a man who readily admits that he is not a sports fan. But he is a news editor so what is not forgivable, in my view, is for the error, made right at the start of the news report, to be left uncorrected full 15 minutes later when the news report ended.

Speaking of uncorrected, there’s an error that’s been running on TV6 for at least a year now, probably much more. It’s in the ticker tape that runs below the news presenter every night boasting that there’s “NO POLITICAL INTEFERENCE.”

Look again. In English, “interference” has—or should have—two r’s, not one (just to be clear, that’s one after the first ‘e’ and one after the second ‘e’).

And there’s a second long-running error that annoys me intensely because it is played repeatedly on the several radio stations owned by the proprietor of Mr Chow on Tragarete Road. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, the ad invites us to come and get “ribs falling off the bone.” No joke!

But my real focus today is the second-rate sports presenters whose loose use of language so often offends the score of us who still care about these things. Throughout the football season, for instance, i95.5’s Don—hearing him say it, one can be forgiven for thinking it’s “Dawn”—Lee, for instance, treats us to numerous servings of “David dee Gear,” the Man. U. custodian.

And he presents poor Michelle-Lee Ahye over and over as “Ahhee.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprint Michelle-Lee Ahye leaves the track after challenging for honours in the Rio 2016 Olympics 100 metre final on 13 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprint Michelle-Lee Ahye leaves the track after challenging for honours in the Rio 2016 Olympics 100 metre final on 13 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Enoch, by the way, either ignored the hyphen in her name, moved it or doesn’t know what it means since, in the same midday broadcast, he called her “Lee-Ahye.”

On the TV6 7pm news the previous night after Kyle Greaux failed to get past the first round of the 400m in Rio, the Cup of Woe presenter, who apparently doesn’t think accuracy is really important, treated us to the news that “Kyle Giroux” had been eliminated.

I suppose a cook has to be comfortable with butchering animals. But people’s names? Please, no, eh!

And then of course, there is the Rio reporting, more accurately, the headlines selected for the reports. There’s a lot of talk on social media and on the airwaves about how “ungrateful” and “harsh” the citizenry has been in its dissing of the athletes representing us in Rio. Well, no one can accuse the Express of that.

When gymnast Marisa Dick flopped on the bars in Rio, the #1 paper relegated her fall to the back page, highlighting on its front page that she had delivered a “new move on Olympic stage.”

As an exemplar of positivity, the paper is indisputably way ahead of the field.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Marisa Dick performs on the balance beam at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 7 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Marisa Dick performs on the balance beam at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 7 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

But here is a warning for the Express: superlatives are to be used sparingly.

In his early days as a sports reporter, a former prominent news reader, now promoted to sports organizer, used to style almost everything of note that happened “excellent”. As his stay in the profession grew longer and longer, he found he had to begin to use more and more the absurd descriptor “very excellent.”

And the Express?

Young “Record-breaker” Dylan Carter was “dynamic” in swimming and rower Felice Chow “fantastic,” both athletes having done their best but not quite made the grade. So when Ahye finished sixth in the 100m and followed that up with a similar placing in the 200m, the Express could not but up the ante and the sprinter earned “awesome.”

Former record holder Ian Morris supplied “superb” for Machel Cedenio, fourth in the 400m final.

With Keshorn Walcott in position to reclaim his gold medal in the javelin finals last night, I wondered whether the empty heads syndrome would prevail or would the creative juices in the newsroom be flowing freely enough to make a damblaying of one of the superlatives unnecessary?

Frankly, I wasn’t optimistic; my money was on “Wonderful Walcott.”

The 23-year-old from Toco contrived to give the country its only medal of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. But that bronze earned him neither adjective nor epithet.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott shows off his bronze medal after finishing third in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 20 August 2016.  (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott shows off his bronze medal after finishing third in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 20 August 2016. 
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

When I wanted to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the way the newspapers in particular were responding to the crippling crisis in West Indies cricket, I penned a piece which I headlined, “And the media just keep on mediaing.”

Thanks to the spellcheck, that became, tellingly but not unsurprisingly, “And the media just keep on mediating.” And in the #1 paper, the “correction” went uncorrected.,

So, not me and the conventional media, dearie!

I’m truly disappointed with the anti-progressive use in Raucous in Rio of Black Friday to describe a day when things didn’t go well. But I’m sticking with Wired868.

Having seen Lasana’s comprehensive, superlative reporting on the Thema Williams/Marisa Dick kangkatang, I have adapted the old Latin guideline for educators “Healthy minds in healthy bodies” to Mens Lasana in corpore sano and adopted it as the motto for all my journalism classes.

Photo: A journalist types her story.
Photo: A journalist types her story.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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10 comments

  1. Easy exercise. There are so many typos and instances of bad grammar in our newspapers that once I asked a leading editor if they did away with the proof reader!

    • Earl Best

      It’s not that the proof readers have been sidelined, Judy-Ann, it’s that the standards have gone to pot. Newspapers in T&T, perhaps the world over but certainly in T&T, are committed to not standards but levels, levels, may I add, of profit.If it has no impact on sales, it’s of no importance whatsoever.

      Notice how often the piece reminds readers that the Express is – and continues to be – the NUMBER ONE PAPER in the country.

      .

    • Earl Best

      Not sure what you mean by “being addressed.” Who cares about these things except a handful of old fogeys (who really are anachronisms when you come to think of it) and younger citizens whose parents were teachers (Right, Colin?)

      It wud be gr8 if u wud + your voice 2 the chorus of protest 4 sumting 2 B done abt it. 2day!

      But I noticed that by Sunday night, “inteference” had become “inteRference” on the TV6 ticker tape. A small victory for Wired868.

  2. Thank you sir!! Me thinking it and you writing it just brings a smile to my heart. I often wonder why don’t these ‘sports people’ get it right and even if they’re not into sports at least get the names right……its part of your craft!

    My headline for Keshorn would have been “Thank you Keshorn!”.

  3. That’s really one of his pet -peeves!
    I didn’t have him as a lecturer but others at COSTAATT’s Ken Gordon School of Journalism and Communition said that in his writing writing courses he actually gave them newspapers and they had to search for grammatical errors for group work. Lol

  4. Media sort of fits in to the general standard in the country. Sign painters often fail to get the correct spelling of words before painting them on public signs… Even worse, those who do the voice work for popular ads don’t need to get the pronunciation right. For months on end I have heard TV ads promoting “O-meagre-XL” health supplements and “Hi-Yun-Dai” vehicles.