Raising the Bar

The world’s fastest men and women were feted this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica for their breathtaking exploits in Beijing this summer. The Government produced floats, big trucks pumping music, throngs of joyous people, and keys to new cars and the city of Kingston for many of them. We’re not exactly sure what the latter will unlock; surely a little like giving someone the keys to Pandora’s Box.

I feel like a dog with ten tails, said a woman in the street, beaming with delight the day Usain Bolt returned from the Olympics. And all of them wagging full speed no doubt– what could be more evocative than that? As Brazil is to football, the most stylishly competitive track and field in the world will always be to Jamaica and young Usain will likely occupy a similar place in the firmament as the legendary Pele.


I was going through the newspapers that had piled up on me during those glorious Beijing days and found some really great visual material in them. If the print media routinely lets us down in terms of sloppy writing and poorly conceived and executed texts (no world beaters here, alas!) our cartoonists and advertising agencies rose to the occasion effortlessly demonstrating their world class skills in a series of brilliant cartoons and ads celebrating and commenting on the feats of the Jamaican athletic team.


In this post I’ve reproduced what i thought were the most creative print ads in local newspapers and one of my favourite cartoons by Las May of the Gleaner (apologies for the quality of reproduction, its entirely due to the technology i employed). What price that image of the public awarding a big zero to the antics of the two PNP contenders? (above). Adwise I thought IRIE FM won hands down (see immediately below) with its image of the receding heels of an athlete wearing the Jamaican flag like a cape. No prize for guessing what it says in Chinese–“Usain Bolt run things”–I’m sure.


Congratulations too to Maurice Smith (who has various friends of mine drooling over him); the captain of the team, he is an outstanding decathlete and his role as leader should not be overlooked.

Sorry now to have to drag you from the sublime heights of Olympic stardom to the dismal depths of print journalism in Jamaica but i need to revisit my post of a few weeks ago, Pronounced Dead, (September 5 to be precise) in which i lamented the kind of shoddy writing that passes for reportage and commentary in this country. I return to it now to quote from some of the incisive responses that post received which really bear being quoted and highlighted.

According to V.

the most worrisome part is that, other than illustrating the sloppiness of local editorial practices, the “pronounced dead” narratives also reveal an appalling intellectual dishonesty. Our newspapers know perfectly well that those routine police reports conceal more complex and sordid stories and they should make more effort (correction: MUCH more effort) to uncover and report them.

As Bitter Bean pointed out:

The truth is that those who run the papers care more about the advertising than the editorial content. Articles are just included so that all the ads don’t look overcrowded.

On September 22nd the inimitable Long Bench left this:

I noticed today that the NYT actually created an online page to address the errors that editors and readers find —

http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/when-spell-check-cant-help-a-quiz/

Well, well, well. So my post was a timely one. It’s not only in Jamdown that the print media is being critiqued by its readers for the numerous errors purveyed in their pages. The difference is that being Jamaica (read third world? provincial?) newspapers here have completely ignored all criticism, undeterred in their determination to pepper their prose with the most careless and egregious errors.

The Gleaner shows marginal improvement. In last Sunday’s paper ( all the examples cited here are from September 27) the only thing i could find at first glance was this line from Ian Boyne’s column: speaking of Portia he said “…the odds have been stocked against her…” A good proofreader should have picked that up, odds are stacked against someone not stocked.

From the Herald there were several bloopers: in Garnett Roper’s column I read “What Jamaica faces is an economy which has almost grounded completely to a halt.” Later in the same column “People are wondering around lost because of mounting bills.” Today’s editorial in the Herald is titled “Why Journalists must be troublemakers” and makes the case for aggressive newsgathering and storytelling. i completely agree; the Herald is virtually singular in taking such an uncompromising stand in the quality of the stories it carries. It must also display utmost integrity and intolerance of errors in the language it employs to tell its stories.

Finally the Observer had some priceless ones in its editorial titled “Will somebody please answer Ms Verna Gordon-Binns?” The editors seem quite incensed that Ms. Binns’ proposal that ganja or marijuana be used to make ethanol instead of food staples was unceremoniously laughed out of parliament. Quoting from an unnamed document they refer to ‘mitigating the environmental fallout from anthropological activity’. Now mind you this is a quote but the Observer retails it without commenting on its putative meaning. what on earth is being implied here? That anthropological fieldwork has somehow been destructive enough to cause environmental fallout? where, when and how? is the quote correct? Anthropology is “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.” I’m at a loss as to what link there might be to the health of the environment here.

Why don’t all three papers take a leaf out of the book of The New York Times? Mind you the level of incorrect language used in the NYT pales in comparison to the local newspapers yet in contrast the NYT had the grace and humility to acknowledge its shortcomings. Here’s how their article on editorial errors started:

Even in the rush to publish, writers and editors at The Times strive for polish and precision in our prose. Sometimes we succeed.

But sometimes, after the dust settles, we are dismayed to see painful grammatical errors, shopworn phrasing or embarrassing faults in usage. A quick fix might be possible online; otherwise, the lapses become lessons for next time.

Will the local print media do the right thing and start paying more attention to copy editing what it puts out in the way of editorial matter? Jamaica’s Olympic team has raised the bar very high but will the Press Association of Jamaica take even a baby step towards demanding (and attaining) internationally benchmarked professional standards in journalism from its members?

‘Pronounced Dead’ Resurrected Three Years Later…

It may interest you to know that in 12 years of writing for a Jamaican newspaper, the only time i was censored was when i sent in a column mocking the execrable language used in both print and broadcast media here. That column mysteriously never made it to print and i knew better than to make a fuss about it at the time. There is nothing though to prevent me from publishing it here three years later–just keep in mind that the dates referred to in this piece pertain to the year 2005. Oh and i should mention that i was reminded of the existence of this column when i read the Coffeewallah’s latest post on hoof-in the mouth journalism in Trinidad and Tobago. Coffeewallah! great name that–

‘Pronounced Dead’

What I wanted to talk about this week were the distortions of the English language one frequently hears and reads in local media reports starting with the much abused phrase “pronounced dead”. This term often appears in radio newscasts recounting police shoot outs where “shots were fired”, “the fire was returned” and then “the injured men” (rarely members of the police force) are taken to hospital, where “upon arrival” they are invariably “pronounced dead”.

In fact “reports have revealed” that those lucky enough to somehow survive such encounters are often left “nursing gunshot wounds” while hapless “motorists” in the vicinity “are urged to exercise caution”. In less deadly encounters we hear that a grade 10 student allegedly “traded blows” with her principal; naturally “a tussle ensued”.

I don’t know how many of you have been “pounced upon” by a duppy or a gunman yet but no doubt we have all been exposed to situations where knives are “brought into play”. The best story I ever heard though was actually in a TV newscast some years ago; it seems two cars had collided and the policeman who took the reports was then himself involved in an accident when on leaving “the scene” he was “pounced upon by a number of cows” apparently intent on colliding with his car. Fortunately for the policeman in question his injuries were minor and he escaped being pronounced dead “upon arrival” at a nearby hospital.

Weather reports are little better and we often hear that one island or another is “being lashed by” wind and rain. To make matters worse weather reporters seem to specialize in weird accents so that in the height of the hurricane season I’m sure I heard a headline that said “American Golf Course braces for Category 4 hurricane”. Another one announced that “Hurricane Rita is heading straight for the American Golf Course” while “Part of Spain” was also “preparing for a possible hurricane hit”. Fortunately my Trini friends in Part-of-Spain were spared the worst of that storm…(of course now, three years later, we’re about to be beset by Hurricane Hike).

The newspapers, all three of them, are some of the worst offenders in terms of purveying bad English, not merely circulating quaint or hackneyed language mind you, but the most egregious errors. Let’s start with this paper (Sunday Herald) which on December 4 informed readers that “the case lied dormant for four years…” A columnist in the October 16 edition averred that “In the face of Rita, 20 senior citizens similarly infirmed perished in a bus, as it burned, caught in a gridlock outside Houston caused by those trying to flee the possibility of Katrina par two”.

If you think that’s bad check out these bloopers in the Observer; their proofreader must have called in sick the week of August 14 if one is to judge by the following howlers: “There has been an expulsion in the number of providers of such services over the past 15 years. From the days of one television and two radio stations.” Another column urging people not to distort the facts of the Air Jamaica hub didn’t hesitate to distort the English language. If the airline continued to “loose money” in a period of prosperity asserted the writer it would probably have lost money even under the best management. “It is even more sad that a hotelier who clearly benefited from the extraordinary growth of the airline and more importantly an airline that gained the confidence of the tour operators and travel agents. A hotelier who new first hand that…”

A Gleaner writer, not to be outdone, wondered in a November 6 article why we couldn’t be like Japan,“Why did your ancestors turn a blind eye to the plight of my ancestors and did nothing to help?” he beseeched. Well, probably because the Japanese would commit hara-kiri before allowing a blunder like that into print. The Gleaner’s proofreader was definitely out to lunch that week for in the same edition an article on ‘Ritchie Poo’ Tyndale claimed that the fugitive, considering himself safe in the remote village of Black Shop, “soon adopted to rural life”.

If only the Gleaner and the other papers would adopt a proofreader or two…in all these cases its hard to blame the writers, for depending on the pressure under which stories are written errors are bound to creep in. That is why the humble proofreader exists and for a small fee she or he will keep such errors to a minimum. Proofreading and copy editing are standard practice in newspapers all over the world so it is not clear why the local media is trying to economize in this essential area. One can only hope that this habit of not proofreading the news will soon be pronounced dead. Upon arrival, of course.

PS: The Bitter Bean’s critique of the current Gully mania, Hurricane Gustav and the Politics of Hot Air, is worth reading. Check it out…

Neither pale, nor male…

Just some postscripts while we wait for Hurricane Gustav to huff and puff and blow our house down. When I read Jean Lowrie-Chin’s column “The best of times in Beijing” in the Observer yesterday i was seized with envy and regret. Why hadn’t i thought of going to Beijing myself? Why oh why had the thought not even occurred to me? What a once in a lifetime occasion that would have been!

But then again the second best place in the universe to be when the Jamaicans took Beijing by storm was right here in Jamdown! You could have sliced up the euphoria in the atmosphere with a knife–i personally have been humming ‘walk like a champion, talk like a champion’ ever since…of course the rest of the x-rated lyrics to the Buju Banton song don’t apply but those two lines remind me of Jacques Rogge and Usain every time.

Naturally Kingston’s dancemasters, no, not the NDTC ( National Dance Theatre Company) but dancemakers such as Johnny Hype, Shelley Belly and Elephant Man, are tickled pink that Usain Bolt showed off their creations to a global audience in such fine form. Check out this video of Elephant Man and others demonstrating their brand new Lightning Bolt dance and the To di Worl’–

My friends from Left, Right and Centre (Nationwide Radio, Digital AM 720) had their usual wicked spoof on the Olympics advertising a product called Haterade Plus:

Are you angry because your sprint career has ended without a gold medal? Do you feel the pain of your country’s poor performance at the Olympics? Are you so bitter that you want a review of your own false starts? Then reach for Haterade Plus! Haterade Plus is jam-packed with anabolic steroids, caffeinated beverages and the most bitter sinkle bible (aloe vera) in the world. So if you’re a hater with attitude break your own record with Haterade Plus!

They go on to mercilessly skewer the in-fighting in the PNP by sending up the whole ‘core values’ discussion. I am going to try and link to an audio clip as soon as possible so watch this space!

Also check out Clovis’s cartoon in yesterday’s Observer. This is Clovis at his best. I love it. This one is priceless.

Cartoon by Clovis, Jamaica Observer, August 25, 2008

And I was so sorry when Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles lost his bronze medal for allegedly stepping out of his lane in the 200m. Glad to know an appeal has been mounted on his behalf, hope its successful. Read all about it here.

Finally moving on from the Olympic races to a different race altogether–the American presidential race–Michelle Obama was impressive, wasn’t she? Neither pale, nor male–i can identify with that…