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Where’s the limit in print?

I can’t believe that a national newspaper such as The Straits Times in Singapore would allow obscenities to be posted on its website.

A reader posted the following comment on an interview with Ris Low, the newly-crowned Miss Singapore World.

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The comment deliberatelly misspelt words that would have been easily caught by the computer dictionary. But the question is: Where are the checks before comments are posted?

Ironically, there is a warning by The Straits Times that such users will be banned in future.

The comments posted online at the paper’s website seem to show me one thing: the intellectual  level (or lack of it) of its readers.

Please explain!

I read a lot of newspapers and magazines.

Some I enjoy exceedingly such as the UK’s Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller, the US edition of Esquire, Vanity Fair, and lots more.

Some just make me cringe. One of the main reasons is that I have to try and figure out what the writers are saying in their convoluted way of story-telling. And worse still, they use terms I don’t understand.

OK, call me stupid, but can anyone tell me what these mean:

• non-renounceable entitlement offer

• management internalisation plan

• pre-emptive right provision

And that’s just from a couple of pages of a business section!

Why can’t newspapers do what the Wall Street Journal does, ie: explain everything, even a simple word like budget (and that in a financial newspaper)!

Why do lesser newspapers think they are beyond explanation? Remember the maxim we learned in our first days in journalism? Explain everything as if the reader is reading your story for the first time!

Whatever has happened to good journalism?

Resistance and mindsets in newsrooms

It never ceases to amaze me that at every newspaper I go to, journalists swear by what they are taught, either in college or by some mentor or another, or what they have been doing for years, even decades.

The thing I hear most often is this: “But we’ve always done it that way.”

It is well nigh impossible to change even though something is obviously better.

Take, for example, white space on pages, a rare commodity in many newspapers.

White space makes pages look beautiful, among other things. But try and incorporate that into a design and you are faced with resistance, especially from editors who want to make use of every available square centimetre, even the gutter space if possible!

I remember as a young boy of about 15, I often wondered how newspapers could fill up every page every day. Back then, I already knew it was not possible that all the news fitted so nicely! Somebody had to do something.

Years later, as a reporter and later a sub, I did exactly what I was told – cut a story to fit, add if it’s too short. Just make sure it fills up the space!

Unfortunately, this is what 99.9 per cent of journalists continue to do.

But in my limited research and from anecdotal evidence, I know that readers are more accepting of change than most journalists are. And they love white space!

My advice to journos: Think more like readers rather than journalists! And if you don’t like what the paper is doing, go find another job where they will let you do what you want.

I’ll bet you my last dollar you can’t find any workplace that allows you to do that.

Editing by the number

Ask any editor how many stories they expect on Page 1 every day and you’re bound to  get a number.

One editor I know insists on four stories every day. Do or die.

Some prefer 25 (Philippines’ Daily Star), some 3 and some 10.

To me it’s astounding that editors can conjure up a number and  make that their golden rule of journalism with little regard to the quality and length of stories, design and so on.

Yesterday, I heard about how one editor got so upset there were only three stories on his beloved Page 1 instead of his magic 4, that he sent a nasty email to  several people. One of them was nearly in tears!

Dictatorial journalism? Terrorist editors?  They shouldn’t be in their jobs!