Trinidad Express Newspapers are in the market for an assistant night editor. Through you, I wish to make an application for the job.
On the list of qualifications and experience required for securing employment in this position are nine items:
At #7, ‘Proficient knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition and grammar.
At #9, Up to date (sic) knowledge of current affairs.
Just earlier today, the SEA results were released. So I am sorely tempted to suggest that there should be a #10: ‘Conviction that the Fourth Estate has an important role to play as a complement to the primary, secondary and tertiary elements of the formal education system.’
But I don’t hold out much hope for that. Or even of being considered for the job. Newspaper principals don’t really want to improve the quality of the paper—they merely want to ensure they get enough labour to be able to continue producing a paper every day. Preferably on the cheap.
Why do I say that? Well, one can ask the more than a handful of editorial people who have left the Express since the start of the year. But also, what else is one to conclude in the face of the evidence?
Have a look at Page 1 of the today’s 3 July edition. The caption on Robert Taylor’s lead photo says that the man and woman in the picture ‘stand outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office on Pembroke Street, Port of Spain, last night.’
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, right? Right!
Truth is, I omitted the parentheses and their contents, which were also included in the caption. (UNCHR), one reads. High Commission but the C in the printed abbreviation precedes the H. Typical Express sloppiness, betraying the absence of a firm commitment to the highest standards so necessary in a responsible national paper.
The examples are many but let us settle for just a handful of recent ones. Have a look at Page 18 of the Friday 30 June edition. Paragraph 3 of the story in the bottom right-hand corner begins thus: ‘Taylor said between 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday…’
Between 2 to 3? How many times has this exact error occurred in these pages? Who notices? Only those, one feels, aspiring to be an assistant night editor. And even they might well miss the missing A in the D’BADIE located between the headline to the byline!
There’s worse to be found in the lead story on the page. Only pedantry points out the existence of a rule making it incorrect to hyphenate ‘recently-ended’ so we’ll let that pass.
And nitpickers might well wonder whether the reporter really meant ‘dissatisfied’ when she said that Richards ‘was unsatisfied with the ministry’s responses…’ Not much of a muchness.
But ‘Richards beleaguered the point that the family had tried and had been unsuccessful…’? Since when does one beleaguer a point?
Did the advent and rapid expansion of social media so extend the meaning of the word, which is ‘to put in a very difficult situation’, as to make it a synonym of belabour?
It would be remiss of me to fail to point out that, year after year in my Fundamentals of Reporting class, I gave many kudos to this particular reporter.
When, in February 2016, the body of Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya was found under a tree in the Queen’s Park Savannah, she was the only one to point out in the early reporting that it was ‘a cannonball tree’.
I feel certain there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Express readers for whom that detail added much useful information to the story.
Finally, let’s have a look at Page 17 of the same Friday 30 June edition. The strap tells us accurately that this is a Tobago story ‘THA’s Morris on budget:’ The headline, however, is less accurate: ‘A mismatch of failed ideas’.
Here is the reporter’s second paragraph which doubtless inspired the editor’s—or perhaps the assistant night editor’s—choice of headline: ‘He said after perusing the documents, he concluded it was a mismatch of failed ideas, a hodgepodge of hit-and-miss thinking and a demoralizing defence of a failed administration.’
Full disclosure: since the audio tape that went viral just over a month ago, I have not listened to anything coming out of the THA. I, therefore, do not know what Minority Leader Kelvon Morris actually said in his presentation.
But what more pointed clue does a reporter or editor—or assistant night editor—need than the presence of ‘hodgepodge’ in the same paragraph? Mismatch? No, emphatically not!
The less adequate dictionaries will probably not note that the word is the American version of the English ‘hotchpotch’. But is there any dictionary not likely to give the definition of the word as ‘a confused mixture’.
And guess what? There’s another English word defined as ‘a confused mixture’. Mishmash!
It’s not yet in the dictionary but the late Trevor Farrell neatly summed up that not uncommon situation of not knowing that you don’t know. Two-storey ignorance, he styled it.
You’ll find a lot of it in the media—even when they have their full complement of assistant night editors.