More bad news

I meant to dish out more written poison yesterday night, but conceded defeat to the temptation of sleep. Yet I had put too much into this to just let it slip into ignominy in my draft posts collection. Thus I present it now to the three of you reading this at home.

The New Paper‘s front page sub-heading yesterday: ‘SLIPPER MAN’ TAN LEAD SHAKE’S WIFE GETS 16 YEARS FOR KILLING HIS BROTHER.

Unless Mrs Tan is a man, there is something fundamentally wrong with the grammar in this sub-heading. You would have thought that this, being a front page splash and all, ought to have received a bit more sub-editing attention than any other page in the paper. Apparently not.

Its sister paper The Straits Times hasn’t, to my knowledge, perpetrated too many such crimes against the English language on its front page. But you couldn’t say the same for the stuff that goes on between the sheets. On page A12 of yesterday’s paper, the entire page is devoted to an interview with Mr Richard Seow, chairman of Parkway Holdings.

A quick question to The Straits Times news editors. Erm, why? The whole thing is some embarrassingly fawning smush about what a good father the successful businessman Mr Seow is, complete with his parenting tips – yes of course, how relevant they are to people who don’t the kind of money and extended family support network you have. The kind of stuff you read in parenting magazines. Or perhaps in the Life! section. But Prime? Page 12? Where I expect to read the hard news?

I’ll tell you why, and the clue is in the sixth and seventh paragraphs. They read: “As chairman of the newly formed Fathers Action Network (FAN), [Mr Seow] hopes to encourage other fathers to do the same.”

“The network – funded by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) – drives the “Dads for Life Movement” that aims to get fathers more involved with their children. Its 16 members include Singapore Children’s Society executive director Alfred Tan, and The Straits Times sports editor Mathew Pereira.”

Go on, you know you want to. Yes, put your head in your hands, turn it side to side in slow, deliberate motions while sighing incessantly to yourself.

I move on to smaller fry. my paper, the SPH bilingual freesheet, might want to rethink its idea of journalism altogether, if its take on the much-vaunted ‘citizen journalism’ is anything to go by. On yesterday’s page A6, the paper ran a half-page section named ‘Ground Zero: Citizen Journalism in action’. Three short picture stories, all taken from Stomp (self-proclaimed to be “Asia’s No.1 citizen-journalism website with user-generated material fuelling its success”), were ostensibly chosen by my paper for their newsworthiness.

What gems they had in store – petty crime, snake surprise and swarming vermin. The lead act was a still from CCTV footage, showing two girls stealing shoes from a HBD flat in Eunos. Ok, what do we learn from this 50-word piece? Petty crime – specifically, shoe stealing – happens in Singapore. No shit, sherlock. And that the owner of the shoes hasn’t the common sense to just keep her shoes in her flat, but instead thought it a good idea to spend more money on installing a CCTV camera outside her flat to catch future thieves (and continue to lose her shoes in the meantime).

Next up, a motorist received a slippery shock when she finds a python in her car, which had been left parked for four days while she went on holiday. Right. Boo-hoo, what terror she must have suffered…next!

The third and final piece of ‘citizen journalism’ on offer – rats swarming Kim Keat! Kevin will have you know that the infestation is worsening – as the compellingly stark photo of a solitary vermin will testify. “The rats have been getting bolder at Kim Keat Link” he claims, notwithstanding the fact that such bravado/bravura is distinctly a human concept and foisting it upon animals is decidedly unfair.

I’m almost reassured by the fact that our society still traipsing in the shallow banks of trivial banality; validation of lazy stereotypes can be very comforting indeed. But I don’t blame these people, who took time and effort to chip in token insights into their humdrum lives. They don’t call themselves ‘journalists’ (I hope, and I feel sorry for them if they do); it is the my paper editors who thrust this nefarious misnomer upon them and hail it as the next journalistic messiah.

I anticipate a flurry of accusations about my intellectual snobbery and professional hubris. But let me put this to you. Journalism is not the simple act of distribution of information and media to a public audience, which in all honesty is all Stomp is doing in these three instances – a photo and some background information distributed in print and made widely available on the internet. If this act is journalism, then advertising, leafleting, spam emailing and texting, or simply the act of speaking on mass media can all be considered as such – since they similarly involve the distribution of information on a massive scale, without the application of news judgement, the verification of facts, establishment of context, and not conscientiously processed to filter irrelevant noise and enhance its value as insight into wider social, political and economic issues.

What is stopping the above tidbits of information from becoming journalism is the application of the journalistic process. The rats at Kim Keat piece could so easily be expanded into a proper story looking at failings of the local council in dealing with rubbish and sewage clearing, pest control, or maintenance of general hygiene. Maybe, with some legwork and investigation, there is news to be found in potential council incompetence, or possible unhygienic practices by local residents in rubbish disposal.

But this takes time, energy and commitment. None of that will likely come from ‘citizen journalists’ – they have day jobs, “better things to do”. If they were willing and committed enough, sure anyone can be journalist – there’s no exclusivity about journalistic work. But the fact of the matter is, few people are willing to go that extent, either for want of time, interest, motivation or imagination. Consequently, much of this over-hyped ‘citizen journalism’ amounts to little more than “look at me looking at them”-type affairs.

While my paper seems confused about the basic principles and purpose of their profession, the Temasek Review correspondents have trouble keeping their raw emotions in check.

In one of their follow-up stories to the KKH chemotherapy blunder, the Review plainly screamed: “Mr Ng Chun Kiat, son of KKH medication error victim Madam Ng L.K lambasted the two pharmacists responsible for the mistake as being “idiots” on his blog, started a few days ago to create “public awareness” for the incident!”

Earlier in the day, the initial story on this development exhibited similar indignation in its lede. “The son of one of the victims of the medication blunder at KKH Mr Ng Chun Kiat had spoken out against some of the factual inaccuracies in reports carried by the state media about the case!”

If there is one character on the keyboard that ought to be irrelevant, even redundant for a news reporter, it is the exclamation mark. To be fair, even partisan columnists are wary of the dangers of wantonly casting this punctuation mark in their prose. Shouting louder doesn’t make you more right, after all (ALTHOUGH SOME NET TROLLS SAY THAT CAPSLOCK DOES!). And spare a thought for your readers, the news you’re reporting is patently terrible enough – the last thing they need is for you to shove it down their throats, already parched from all that fear and anxiety.

Note to the Temasek Review: If the news you are reporting is truly “shocking”, you don’t need to spell it out for your readers (see: “Another medical blunder: NUH to be sued for alleged negligence”). They are intelligent people. They can draw their own conclusions about it.

Also, you might want to consider removing “unbiased” from your “About Us” page. It is patently misleading and, from the looks of the news writing by your correspondents, disingenuous. I say this as a postmodernist who doesn’t believe in the possibility of an absolute objective truth, and not some pro-government crony. I say this because I want the Temasek Review to become a credible news outlet and not degenerate into some self-reverential portal for angry liberals.

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~ by spiegel2071 on November 19, 2009.

One Response to “More bad news”

  1. […] I wasn’t too charitable with The New Paper last week for its front page faux pas (see: More bad news). I jumped on a simple confusion of subject and object in the sub-heading of the front page splash, […]

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