Bad language

July 13, 2009

NSFMMTR (not safe for my mum to read)

I like language.

I’m quite fond of bad language too. I was a reporter, after all, and in most news rooms “Fuck You” is considered witty banter and/or a jovial greeting between peers.

And so it was that I was very angry to discover a journalist was fired for telling an editor to fuck off. But that was some time ago. I no longer mutter “motherfucker” under my breath when I think of it (arse).

Today’s lesson: swearing is good for you, particularly when you bang your head on the upper bunk while tucking in your four year old daughter/comedian/mimic.

It’s true. Scientific America told me.

“The study, published today in the journal NeuroReport, measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. During the chilly exercise, they could repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer”.

I find the longer the string of words, the happier I feel.

Sadly, I’ve also discovered that some people view swearing in the same light they view kicking small dogs: that is, it’s not for polite company.

Interestingly, I work in an open plan office very near the boss, surrounded by accountants and people who have corporate jobs. They’ve never worked for an angry red-faced man with a too-tight collar and a bad tie who ate junior reporters for breakfast and spat out the pips onto the newsroom floor. Neither have I but they all think I did (either that or that I secretly ran away to sea many years ago and instead of a tattoo or syphililis, came home with a Vocabulary).

Still, they’re learning. I swear (ha) I saw someone taking notes during my last outburst. It went something like this:

and was a sight to behold.

EDIT: Asshole! Embedding not allowed? Wah? Huh? WTF? KMA, MF!

take that!

As I was saying, the boss doesn’t seem to mind. He seems to quite enjoy it at times.

One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, has of course already stolen the best title for this blog post – Warning: Contains language. The bastard.

but an awful time to be in journalism.

And by journalism I mean newspapers.

And this piece by Clay Shirkey, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable explains it far better than I could have.

Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

Anyone interested in the death of the media should have a read… it’s well worth while.

What he said

April 21, 2008

Keith Ng has launched in on the debacle that is The Listener’s approach to handling the media and done so with far more aplomb than I’ve managed so I’ll link to it here.

Favourite quote:

Clearly, there’s some very sophisticated irony at work here. A climate change publication is accusing a media organisation of shutting down a voice on climate change. The media organisation then gently convinces said climate change publication to STFU, and to announce (in the manner of those convicted by Soviet show-trials) that the media organisation is in no way shutting down voices on climate change.

Brilliantly put, Keith.

And Stephen Price (journalist-lawyer, a new hybrid I was previously unaware of who presumably can say mean things in print and then defend himself in court, thus earning more than the 40c/word freelance rate, OH the irony! ;-)) points to the legal side of things and the D Word: defamation.

“The correction and apology looks ham-fisted to me. It even includes a retraction of things that weren’t even in the post.”

That is astounding… I remember one editor and his pet sub in particular who wouldn’t leave copy alone… to the point where the reporters would
sneak back into the database after the sub had been at it and change stuff back.

My favourite booboo was her changing “iwi” (a word she was unfamiliar with) to “kiwi”. No, really. I caught that one before it went into print.

However the sub prevailed on the editor to make some changes so that she could change our copy and we would be none the wiser… He dutifully
introduced a field to the database wherein he and she could discuss the stories without any input from the reporters whatsoever. When I figured
out what was going on I blew my stack in a spectacular fashion (no typewriters were harmed however) and my only regret is that I invoked
Godwin’s Law by saying “At least in Nazi Germany they knew who the villains were!”

But nobody got fired, least of all me.

Surely robust editorial discussions should be encouraged? Why do today’s editors seem determined to winkle out those “prickly bastards” who make
their life difficult? Aren’t they the ones who are out there making their stories prickly as well?