September 26, 2006

Weather signals and storms

Weather stories like the ones on crime are often manhandled by the reporters and the editors. In most cases, most signals come to be printed as cautionary signals, as 'cautionary' sounds a bit serious than 'warning,' quite unware of the fact that there is a difference between a cautionary signal and a warning signal in weatherspeak. In one of the reports, the phrase distant cautionary signal 3 came out in print. The error was spotted the next day. There is nothing called distant cautionary signal 3. There are only two distant signals and the subsequent signals are local, for seaports. One of the reporters who visited the coast to cover the salvage efforts after the storm in the Bay of Bengal one day wrote: the local people said the wind blew clocking a speed of more than 200 kilometres an hour which should not have been flagged with local cautionary signal 3. We could not check if the Met Office had measured wind speed. But a wind speed above 75 is considered hurricane force which, in Bangladesh, occurs in cyclones and tornadoes. The second most deadliest cyclone in Bangladesh was the 1991 cyclone, when the highest wind speed was measured at 260 kilometres an hour. The damage caused by the cyclone was estimated to be $1.5 billion and about 1,38,000 people died in the cyclone. The most deadliest, 1970 Bhola cyclone, which killed about 5,000,000 people, had a wind force of an estimated 190 kilometres an hour.

September 16, 2006

Lazurus, come from the dead

A crime report on a warrant asking some policemen to appear in court to give deposition in a murder case that landed on the news desk went logical up to several paragraphs. Just in the middle of the story, a paragraph quoted the man, who was killed seven years ago allegedly by the police, narrating what had happened just before he was killed. Interesting! He was no 'Lazurus, come from the dead,/ Come back to tell you all, ...' It made one of the editors, who rewrote the story, laugh heartily. The information was written in the first information report, he said.

August 29, 2006

Hat and prospect fertiliser

A follow-up on an incident that was the lead the previous day reached the desk from an outstation writer, which quoted a villager saying after he had sold his cow in the hat in the afternoon... The first reading of the phrase, without any leading references before, readily rang the bell -- 'Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter' from 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' by Thomas Eliot. Few lines down, the text unfolded. The man was selling his cow in a rural market place, which, transcribed from Bangla into Roman characters, is written, hat, and pronounced more like 'hut,' the vowel lengthened. Another story of similar origin said a dignitary would inaugurate a 'dye ammonium prospect fertiliser industry,' readily to be recognised as 'di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser industry.'

August 24, 2006

Sources are a part of society

Sourcing remains a trouble with the editors and reporters. One of the reporters once said 'Sources said ...' And he explained the 'sources' saying 'they are a part of society' to an editor when his attention was called to the sourcing. Indeed, sources are a part of society, but each part of society should not be made a source. Everything that goes in a story should be properly sourced; it leaves margin for others, otherwise, to consider the content to be editorial. It is particularly necessary if things run to court where it will help the editor, publisher or the writer to establish which portion of the story is editorial and which portion is reported. There are debates on whether to source a report only once or at several instances as required. But the entrant reporters believe it goes to their credit that they somehow come to know of the happening, as they write in the report. And they remain unwilling to divulge the source, even if the officials they talk with never request the protection of anonymity. A simple rule: never over- or under-identify sources if they do not seek anonymity; but try to identify them as specific as they can be without being spotted, if they seek not to be named. But only the words and phrases such as 'source,' 'informed source' or 'confirmed source' should not be used. And one more thing: sources should be authoritative, or relevant.

Misplaced explanation or troubled visualisation

One of the reporters, walking the political beat, covered an agitation programme of road march and filed a story which was rounded up with something like 'people in small groups from the city and its outskirts including Ramna, Dhanmondi and New Market areas joined the marchers as they proceeded towards...' Impeccable sentence. But what makes the trouble here is that Ramna, Dhanmondi and some other places that were included as outskirts in the story sprawl at the city centre. Had it been before the 1960s, when Old Town of Dhaka was demarcated by a railway going between Nagar Bhaban, the mayor's office, and Osmani Udyan, such a statement would have been correct. For a city that sprawled along the River Buriganga, Ramna or Dhanmondi were more than outskirts. One of the editors said it was a problem of visualisation; the reporter put it down all to an early deadline and the pressure of three stories. But the problem lies with the shoddy construction of the sentence and the indifference of letting it land the desk without a second read. A second read improves much of the stories, which reporters consider an unwarranted job on their part.

August 15, 2006

Comme une vache espagnole

They say in French il parle fran├žais comme une vache espagnole — he speaks French like a Spanish cow, usually referring to someone speaking bad French (we have heard that not being able to speak French is being illiterate and speaking bad French is barbaric). But the superficial essence of the phrase manifested in an out-of-the-station copy that landed the newsroom a couple of days ago. The copy was larded with mistakes in each of its line, without making any trouble in being understood though. But one of the editors said there was a mistake which cannot be excused. The last sentence of the copy had the phrase 'others received past aid from different clinics'' where the writer means to say 'first aid.' The people of Noakhali had a persistent problem of pronouncing 'f' as 'p' in Bangla, which manifested in his English writing. It shows schooling, espeically primary, still has a long way to go in Bangladesh.

August 05, 2006

The poor definite article

Articles have remained the most ignored grammatical objects to both editors and writers. Stories get in print saying 'the Thursday's meeting' when it should be either 'Thursday's meeting' or 'the Thursday meeting.'

Unqualified plural count nouns are often modified with the definite article, such as 'The schoolteachers went on a strike' when 'Schoolteachers went on a strike' should be correct.

Gerundial consruction of possession with 'of' are quite often written without the definite article -- 'the buying of the papers' gets written or even edited as 'buying of the papers.'

The word 'society' which should not take 'the' unless modified otherwise is written as 'the society;' and 'the country' and 'the government' which alone should always take 'the' to mean Bangladesh's are often written 'country' or 'government' with a tendency to capitalise the words as a trail of the officialese that was once prominant in Bangladesh's newspapers.

The word is frequently dropped where it should be and it is often added where it should not be -- making the structure difficult to understand, sometimes at the cost of a change of meaning. After all, there is a difference between 'What is time?' which warrants a scientific explanation, and 'What is the time?' which anyone who has just learnt how to tell the time can answer.

August 04, 2006

Huge Bangladeshis...

This was in 1995. I worked on the desk of a newspaper different from the one I am on now. One fine morning the frontpage came out with a headline: 'Huge Bangaldeshis to be deported from Malaysia.' It makes sense, but not the one intended. The next morning an editor asked: What are the specifications of huge Bangladeshis? Six feet or six feet and a half? The man in charge of the page meant to say a huge number of Bangladeshis. Oversight, probably, which is typical of a late night newsroom, which cannot be excused.

August 03, 2006

To back and to aware

Once I heard one of the Oxford dictionary editors saying that words in currency for five years are eligible to be considered entries. Once people used to write 'to centre on.' And now 'to centre around' has come to be considered correct, probably because of prolonged use, although purists stand their ground. But language changes, on use by common people for longer period. But should it change on the use as it is in Bangladesh? Writers and editors often use 'to back' to mean 'to give or get (something/someone) back [to somewhere]' and 'to aware' to mean 'to make people aware.' I have always believed there is no space for anything called Bangladeshi English, even in future. But it shows the sign of it. I might prove wrong one day.

August 02, 2006

To pave the way

One of the pet peeves of the editors and writers is to write 'to pave the path for (something).' Good alliteration, but a bad idiom. The phrase, in fact, is ‘to pave the way.’ The norms of the English language say that no idioms should be changed unless they make a good pun.

Holding and bringing out

Another major goof up both the organisations and the newspaper men do is between 'rally' and 'procession.' Most organisations, political or socio-cultural, bring out rallies, while they actually hold rallies and then bring out processions. The careless use of the words routinely comes out in print.

Head-on collision

Copies coming from out-of-the-station writers, understandably, contain some errors, which, unimaginably, pass through the hands of the editors. One such copy said ‘a bus boarding the victim collided head-on with a roadside tree and fell into a ditch near by after the driver had lost control over the steering wheel.’ It was quite a job for the driver to steer the bus to jump up to bump against the tree top which was up in the air. And the driver of course lost his control; he would not have been willing to fall into a roadside ditch, otherwise.

Sarcophagus... simply coffin

A copy that landed the news desk long ago said party activists brought out a procession with a 'sarcophagus' of democracy as a symbol of protest. Sarcophagus -- only one of the editors could tell the meaning. The word was replaced with simple ‘coffin’ in the story that got in print.

July 31, 2006

To err is human

Mistakes do not just happen. They develop, at human intervention. Almost all the people walking down the newsroom have a role in such mistakes. Writers' mistakes get in print for editors' oversight. Editors mangle copies and even correct copies develop mistakes on the stone. And all have their reasons to explain the occurrence of such mistakes. In the blog, I will record such anecdotes of the newsroom of a national newspaper published in the English langauge from Dhaka, Bangladesh. But many of the mistakes are spotted before they get to the printers'. I will also try to record them.