Friday, 31 March 2017

The pencil-sharpenings of journalism

Last week I was reminded of my intense dislike of rolling news (although to call it news is an unmerited compliment: EVOLVING RUMOUR might be nearer the mark). During the BBC's ravings, the phrase the pencil-sharpenings of journalism occurred to me (building on the first draught of history trope.
<tangent subject-"pencil-sharpenings">
Pencil sharpenings look like a mess, but one made of discrete chunks of apparently innocuous bits; at a first glance, one doesn't notice the dark bits at the end of each shaving. But the shavings are good for nothing; they just indicate that something, involving a pencil, has happened. It's not clear from the shavings even if the effort of sharpening worked. There's no telling what the sharpened pencil, if it was sharp in the end, was used for.

At Westminster on that day, something happened. What it was is beginning to become clear. I imagine in a month or two we'll have a better idea.
This reminded me of the afternoon of 11 September 2001. I was working in an open-plan office, recovering from the Y2K jollities.
<rant flame="low-mid">
Which reminds me of all the smart a*s (=ALECS, of course) who say things like "Remember all that Millennium Bug nonsense. The IT sales people used it as an excuse to sell a load of new kit. And what happened? Nothing! Not a thing, except that we all have to fill in 4-digit dates. I mean who needs to scroll down through dozens of 21st century dates when they're opening a new bank account, say?.... Er... maybe that's not the best of examples."

Well no, you bozo, I think. Nothing happened, not a thing, because for the last two or three years of the 20th century IT engineers were busy making sure it didn't.
A colleague was following rolling news on one of his many devices (he was the early adopter's early adopter – adoptio praecox was his thing, perhaps). A reporter (possibly from the BBC, though they're not by any means the worst ...
<digression type="mitigation">
In a recent Media Show [correction, Feedback] a  caller compared the BBC's coverage with Channel 4's. He referred to a scoop the BBC had "missed". The presenter came back with what to me – and to Humpty Dumpty, probably – seemed like a knock-down argument: the "scoop" was a mistake.

But the complainant was not remotely disturbed: the BBC's job, it seemed, was not only to jump on any passing bandwagon, however unroadworthy, but preferably to start its own: Nation shall speak cr@p unto nation.
...)  passed on the "news" that there had been several casualties and AT LEAST A DOZEN deaths.
So, as far as I'm concerned, rolling news can just keep rolling. It seems to me interesting that – among the many possible "first uses" investigated in that Slate piece – one, Phil Graham's (not the Ur-text, it turns out), came from a speech addressed to correspondents for a weekly. Let us not get our fingertips dirty with the pencil-sharpenings.

But I must go and learn some words, ready for Sunday's Johannes-Passion. (That story's more than two millennia old, and still people are arguing about what really happened!)


Update: 2017. – Correction and typo-fix

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