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The Scrivener: And Here Is The News

…A fifteen-year-old Croydon boy has been suspended by his head since last September because of his long hair..

The inimitable and irrepressible Brian Barratt is irritated and amused by journalistic howlers, and the production of Manglish.

A Stafford clergyman’s housekeeper, who says her ancestors used to eat priests, has received a merit award from the Pope.

You’ve probably read that before. It’s one of many howlers made by journalists over the years. Here’s another classic:

A fifteen-year-old Croydon boy has been suspended by his head since last September because of his long hair.

In those cases, the reporter mangled her or his English, and the sub-editor helped to produce the final Manglish. There are times, however, when a reporter writes good English but doesn’t stick to the facts. Employees of small local newspapers are very good at this.

About 25 years ago, I told a reporter that I was Managing Editor of a publishing company. Now that was a perfectly normal title in the publishing world, which the reporter should have understood. The local paper announced that I was Managing Director. In consequence, I had to make peace with my boss, the real MD.

Only a couple of years back, a local freebie newspaper interviewed me about something or other, in the ‘Local Aged Pensioner Achievement’ sort of category. Well, it wasn’t actually an interview. The young chap didn’t bother to come and see me. He phoned, instead.

Knowing the pitfalls of this situation, I answered his questions very carefully. I then asked him if he understood, and repeated the answer. There were five errors in the published report. Just minor matters, but errors nonetheless. For instance, I’d told him that I wrote for a journal published by the University of New England. That appeared in print as the University of New Zealand. There’s quite a difference, you know.

A paper in a small town in England reported the celebratory event held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the War (that’s World War II, for younger readers). That’s fine; good for them. But I wondered about such items as these [names have been changed, to protect the innocent]:

Mrs Alice Dibson (54) of Burton and Hannah Browne (60) of The Avenue, Cranthorpe, brought chairs and a picnic….

…Mr and Mrs Jeff Norton, of Geldingham, attended with their friends and neighbours, Mr and Mrs Jim Bartle.

There’s nothing wrong with the grammar, and the facts are probably correct. It’s all very homely, but do we really want to know that Mrs Dibson and her friend brought chairs and a picnic? Isn’t it equally important to know that Mr and Mrs Harold Branston and their son Albert (12) bought their lunch at the kiosk and sat on the grass?

Perhaps journalists and sub-editors, as well as editors, like to think that they’re telling us what we want to know. Maybe there is some sort of policy decision by which they tell us what they think we should know, on their terms. We are at their mercy.

News about the (fictitious) Mrs and Mrs Harold Branston and their son Albert is not, of course, a matter of national security. There are times when events are hidden from us for that reason. There are also times when it just is not allowed to leak out.

Reading again about the housekeeper whose ancestors used to eat priests calls to mind the reports which used to appear in a certain London Sunday newspaper in the 1940s and 50s. Every week, we read about scoutmasters and Protestant parsons who had committed ‘serious offences’ or ‘grave offences’. No further details were given.

Some sort of journalistic seed must have been planted in my young mind. I questioned these reports: Didn’t Roman Catholic priests also commit these serious and grave offences? Well, now we know. The information was suppressed at source.
There are certain things we shouldn’t know about. There are also certain matters which should not be sensationalised. This item wasn’t published in a newspaper; it appeared in a Melbourne Water leaflet. It’s sensational but everyone should definitely know about it:

Sometimes single customers are directly connected to sewers.

Is this a New Age Remedy for gastric problems? Does it hurt? Is disconnection done by qualified surgeons? Does it signify a return to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition? Are married customers exempt from it? What happens to the unconnected customers?

Verily, the mind boggleth. It just goes to show, you can’t believe everything you read.

© Copyright Brian Barratt


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