What part of the word “collide” don’t you understand?

May 11, 2010

Not before time the New Zealand government has begun to ask politely if the Japanese government would mind terribly sharing some information about its case against Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune.

Captain Bethune has been in a Tokyo jail for some weeks now and there is no indication that charges will be laid soon, or that he will actually receive any real justice while incarcerated.

Prime Minister John Key announced this week that he is seeking more information from Japan about the incident that led to the sinking of Bethune’s ship the Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean in January.

There was a collision and that is clear from the video footage of the incident, but what is in dispute (in a legal sense) is which vessel was responsible.

On the TVNZ news last night [8pm TVNZ 7 bulletin] it was reported like this by Guyon Espiner:

The Ady Gil collided with a Japanese whaling ship, the Shonan Maru.

That’s a slight paraphrase, but the simple subject-verb-object construction of this sentence is absolutely loaded with meaning.

The implication is that the Ady Gil hit or ran into the whaling vessel.

If this was the case we might expect the nose of the Ady Gil to be crumpled in the fashion that a car colliding head on with the side of another car will have a crumpled nose and the second (object car) will have dents in the side of it.

But the nose of the Ady Gil was sheared right off. A simple understanding of the laws of physics would suggest that for this to happen the impact would have to be to the side of the vessel, not directly front on.

The only way that this could happen would be if the Japanese vessel in fact collided with the Ady Gil.

This simple reversal of subject-verb-object changes the picture immediately and irrevocably.

The  Shonan Maru collided with the Ady Gil.

In fact, the video footage suggests that the Shonan Maru ran right over the top of Captain Bethune’s ship.

There’s a simple lesson here for journalists and journalism students.

Writing in simple subject-verb-object sentences is the right way to do it. It makes the meaning very clear, but if you get it arse-backwards as Guyon Espiner did in his report, the meaning changes.

Active voice suggests that the subject does the action [verb] to the object. In this example the reversal of subject-verb-object distorts the story in a bad, bad way.

As the caption on the Youtube video puts it using a slightly different construction:

“Ady Gil rammed by Shonan Maru”

This keeps Ady Gil as the subject, but the choice of verb clearly implies culpability lies with the Shonan Maru. This is an acceptable alternative because the verb clause “rammed by” makes it clear who was at fault.


Is the magazine industry falling over too?

May 6, 2010

This week I was invited to give a presentation to the staff of NZ Doctor magazine and a couple of its sister publications. I was asked to reflect on the state of the magazine industry and the future of news and journalism.

The slideshow is available for download, but today a story about the potential sale or closure of Newsweek brings the issue into stark relief.

According to news reports Newsweek is losing money fast and if a buyer is not found soon, it may close, but perhaps it’s not the only title to be facing an uncertain future.

I recently got an email from the publisher Conde Nast offering me heavily discounted subscriptions to most of its magazine titles. Unfortunately, it seems that because I live in New Zealand I can’t take advantage of this bargain.

Wired for $US 10 and The New Yorker for $40, a delight for magazine readers. But, why would Conde Nast do this? I can only think it’s because the magazines are not doing well and they want to shore up circulation figures to shill the advertisers.

News stand sales of magazines are also falling, around 7 per cent last year in Australia and by even more in the United States.

1. Cosmopolitan – 1,616,908 (down 7.8 percent)

2. People – 1,319,350 (down 12.77 percent)

3. Woman’s World – 1,175,550 (down 8.31 percent)

4. First – 1,066,167 (down 9.29 percent)

5. Us Weekly – 843,479 (down 2.98 percent)

6. In Touch Weekly – 745,123 (down 17.67 percent)

7. O, the Oprah Magazine – 693,054 (down 5.58 percent)

8. Family Circle – 673,286 (down 22.55 percent)

9. In Style – 625,589 (down 20.13 percent)

10. Star – 601,115 (down 14.29 percent)

Industry types are saying that the slump in advertising revenues that dogged news and magazine publishers in 2009 might now be over and that sales are trending up. Figures seem to be still reasonable with the top four US titles all still selling over 1 million copies, but the percentage drops are huge for some.

Perhaps there’s not many real magazine buffs out there anymore, but I for one will not be curling up in bed with an iPad anytime soon. I like to read a magazine and to do the puzzles with a pencil.


Martini Music: A funky jazz comparison

May 2, 2010

My dream gig this week would be Sharon Jones with Hollie Smith. The big question: Who would headline?

If you’re reading this outside New Zealand you might not know Hollie Smith, but if you’re a fan of Jones and the Dap-Kings you will like the Kiwi singer too.

Smith’s voice has a deeper bass note and her music is not quite in the same danceable be-bop/funky groove as Sharon Jones, but the jazz-blues roots are there and so is the lyrical and musical weight.

They are modern divas of soul and both have new-ish albums out (as of Feb/March 2010).

Smith’s Humour and the misfortune of others is a hard-hitting mix of ballads and jazz-influenced rock-blues  that move the soul and lift the spirits, despite being written to express Smith’s emotional roller-coaster existence through 2008-2009. The lead track and first single is “Mamma”.

The stand-out track for me is “Let me go”, it has a soul choir that wouldn’t be out of place in a Memphis tabernacle.

Jones and the Dap-Kings are based in Brooklyn, but they too have some bluesy roots and have got the funk-soul thing down to a fine art on I learned the hard way, their fourth studio album.

And they’d bring the house down live.

Jones is super cool, check out this interview from South by South West earlier this year.

There’s a 30 year age gap between Jones and Smith (alias Smith & Jones), but I’m sure they would get on and certainly they’d fill the stage and the auditorium if they were to gig together in New Zealand.

If you’re a promoter, get this double bill together and give Kiwi audiences a real musical treat.


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