Saturday, December 12, 2015

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать. And in newspapers facts are said to be sacred, but not quite as much as sales - use your discretion

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать I tend to look at the stats for this blog every morning when I check my email, and a few days ago I noticed that rather a lot of visits had come from Russia. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and everyone is welcome to waste whatever time they have to spare in their busy, busy lives reading my ramblings. But I was puzzled. It’s not as though I have anything useful to say about Russia, mainly because I don’t know Russia or much about the country and her people and culture. And I don’t speak Russian.

The snippet of Russian above I’ve used head this entry - I mean to say ‘I’m glad/pleased to see you and welcome’, but which it seems actually translates as ‘I’m excited to see you and welcome’ - comes courtesy of ‘Google translate’, then checked on a second sight. I am wary of Google translate (which I why I checked). I speak German and once or twice I’ve noticed that what Google translate offers is rather closer to goobledegook than one might wish. I checked on this site and this because for all I knew Google’s offering of Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать actually means ‘don’t bother me with your problems, you fool’ or ‘off with you now, woman, and find me some vodka’.

According to the stats 50 people visited some entry of other of this blog in the past 24 hours, of which 31 visits were from Russia. The others were from the US, the UK, German, Taiwan, Australia, France and Ukraine (which I must remember not to refer to as the Ukraine as that, I understand is an insult). And in the past week of 353 visits, more than half - 188 - were from Russia. Why, I really can’t imagine.

There is, of course, one, rather sobering, explanation: it’s not what I have chosen to write about which last week attracted 188 visits, but some netbot scouring the web for whatever reason netbots scour the web. I have come across that before. Then, it seems, this blog was sought out by someone who had initially visited another blog, one active for just one month in March 2009 in order to sell houses. Why? I have no idea.

. . .

Like man other people - possibly still like many other people, who despite ‘social media’ and news on the web buy a daily newspaper - I grew up rather in awe of newspapers. It seemed to me that they and the stalwarts who produced them were somehow set apart from the rest of us. Journalists seemed to ‘know things’, some of which - but most certainly not all of which - they passed on to us.

They did this, we were assured by any number of Forties, Fifties and early Sixties Hollywood films dealing with newspapers, for noble reasons: we, the public, had a ‘right to know’. Journalists, we were - somehow - assured had a moral, almost sacred, duty to get ‘the truth out there’. Journalists were ‘in the know’, or at least that was the impression they liked to give us. From June 4, 1974, on - that was the day I started work as reporter on the Lincolnshire Chronicle in Lincoln (I specify that because the Lincolnshire Standard, part of the same group, was based in Boston, Linconshire).

The scales didn’t fall from my eyes overnight, though gradually but very surely it all came into focus, and gradually but very surely the pleasure I got from reading a newspaper disappeared like morning mist on a summer’s day. Now I get none at all, because I know how its done. I often compare it to the awe we have of stage magicians: we know with absolute certainty that no ‘magic’ is involved, we know it is all just trickery, dexterity and clever sleight of hand - and yet . . .

We plead with the magician to show us how its done. The wise ones refuse, always, both for their sake and ours. But occasionally one will relent and demonstrate how what held us so spellbound and in awe was quite simply to achieve. And then the regret sets in: we now wish we had not been shown how the trick was done, we wish we were still in that state of awe. But like losing your virginity, you can never regain it. It’s like that with newspapers.

Having written a great many news stories and later in my career edited them (as a sub-editor), I can spot the joins unerrringly. I can spot where the reporter wasn’t quite sure of the ‘facts’ and had to fudge; I can often spot what brief he was given by her/his news editor; I can spot - and we can all do this - what exactly is ‘new’ in the story we are reading and what is just a rehash of past news stories. But there is one magazine - which rather oddly likes to call itself a newspaper - which I still read, though less often than I might.

It is delivered every Saturday, and on the previous Thursday I can download it to my iPads directly. It’s the Economist. There are some, on both the Left and the Right, who don’t like the Economist and I can see why. It wears it principles on it sleeves and is unashamedly free market and in favour of the free movement of goods and principles. I should guess, though I really don’t know enough about them to make this claim, that it stands for pretty much what the old-fashioned 19th-century Liberals stood for.

On social questions it is ‘progressive’ (a word I believe should always get its quote marks). And like some ‘progressives’ it does, occasionally, give the impression of being rather pleased with itself and its value. But my response to that is ‘oh well, there’s always a price to be paid for most things.’ And I am prepared to pay that price becasue the Economist is a great source of information from all over the world.

This morning, for example, I discovered, that Chennai in India (once known as Madras), a city with a population of 8.7 million, has been almost wholly underwater for the past month; in Germany one

Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, is possibly shaping up to be a successor to Angela Merkel; that a very bloody-thirsty television series in China of 36 parts (they don’t do much by halves, do they) which goes out rather to early in the evening for some has led to calls for more censorship; and that Fiat (though most other manufacturers are doing similar things) has developed an engine - and already uses it in some of its cars - which is only a two-cylinder, 900cc beast but which can accelerate to 62mph in 10 seconds and - apparently - reach up to 117mph (and, yes, I also find that hard to believe, but then that is what the Economist is reporting).

Ford has developed its EcoBoost range of engines, 1-litre, three cylinder engines which are said to deliver more power than the previous generation of 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engines. In South Africa, the finance minister, by all accounts a capable and honest man, has been sacked at a rather delicate time - the country might soon be applying for an IMF bailout.

There are certainly many other journals - whether they call themselves newspapers or magazines - which provide just as good a service as the Economist informing us about that which we know little. But I have to say that the awe I felt for our daily and Sunday rag when I was far younger has long disappeared.

Here’s a useful exercise for you to perform next Sunday when your paper is delivered: turn to the main stories and read them. Then ask yourself exactly how much fresh information you have been

provided with. You might find it is surprisingly little. And I really must yet again point you in the direction of the website Committee to Protect Journalists which details the number of hacks killed and where they worked.

These are men and women who really do risk their lives daily ‘to get the truth out there’. Consider that when you next read the gossip column of your favourite rage (speculating on whether Posh and Becks are soon to divorce) and peruse the Mailonline’s column of shame (which keeps an admirable account on where and and with whom various non-entities have taken lunch). You might also care to visit this page to hear about journalists killed in Pakistan who most certainly not reporting on Kim Kardashian’s latest dress.

С моим лучшим wishe, до свидания, до тех пор пока в следующий раз, когда мы (and I do hope that doesn’t make me sound very silly indeed. If it does, blame the various online translation services.)

1 comment:

  1. [Quote:] I'm glad to see you and welcome.
    I used to find that Google Translate worked quite well on short text messages – but changed the meaning (sometimes completely) if the correct grammar and punctuation were added. Even the ‘Document’ version translates phrase-by-phrase, leading to a significant loss of idiom or style. Try a back-translation of the English into the source language for comparison; you’ll begin to wonder, ‘Do they actually say that?’ Probably not – but they may mean it.
    [Quote:] With my best wish, goodbye, until next time, when we are [?together]. Ciao, Zedabee