It's my own stupid, solipsistic fault for Googling myself, I suppose. But I was a tad disconcerted to find the following in a piece by Brian Viner about the ongoing is-Mastermind-dumbing-down-I-mean-Jennifer-Aniston-what's-all-that-about? debate, published in The Independent on 21 August this year:
"...while one former contestant, Tim Footman, surely gets it right when he says: "Had Mastermind been in existence 150 years ago, a subject such as the novels of Charles Dickens would have been criticised for plumbing the depths of pop culture. It's a memory test and, as such, we should worry about the breadth of a subject, rather than any perceived 'importance' or 'seriousness'.""
No problems there, I suppose, especially since Mr Viner has the excellent taste to agree with me. Except that I couldn't for the life of me recall ever having said or written those words. It took a further bout of search-engine onanism to deduce that they were in fact my doing: I'd offered them in response to a piece by Nicole Martin in the online version of the Daily Telegraph.
Now, I suppose this shouldn't bother me. Journalists are perfectly at liberty to lift short quotations to add weight and flavour to their own observations and opinions. And if they're not writing scholarly reports, there's no need to provide detailed bibliographical references for every quote. That said, lifting a reader's response to an article in a different newspaper does rather suggest that the limit of one's research has been to trawl rival publications for articles on exactly the same theme. Especially because my comment on the Telegraph site linked to this blog, so with a couple of clicks Mr Viner could have contacted me and, at the very least, asked me to say the same thing but in a slightly different way.
A minor grumble, especially when compared to this piece by Tom Geoghegan, on the BBC news site. In fact, it's not such a bad article; a nice human-interest piece, interviewing a handful of sparky, opinionated people in their 90s. But the story is hung on the thread that the UK is producing more centenarians than ever, so a reader can only infer that Geoghegan wanted to do a story about people who were 100 or older, couldn't find any, and settled for people who haven't quite got there yet. Which is surely a bit like doing a story about the Olympics, by talking to people who've done quite well at the Commonwealth Games. To be fair, he draws attention to the idiocy of the whole set-up with this sentence:
"Ninety is the new 80, it seems, and the increasing number of people reaching that milestone has contributed to a record number of 100-year-olds."
We'll leave aside the fact that he's opened with a construction ("X is new Y") that's so hackneyed, Private Eye has been running a column taking the piss out of it for the last few years. No, the real problem is that he's taken the trouble to point out to his eager readers that people wouldn't be able to reach the age of 100 if they didn't get through their nineties first. Thanks, Tom. No, really, thanks.
I suppose I should be heartened by the fact that journalism also encompasses people like Dr Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column in The Guardian. But when he uncovers stories like this one, about the PR guff alleging that Cambridge mathematicians had developed a formula to prove that Jessica Alba has a nice arse, or something, you realise that the best journalism these days is about the degree to which other journalism sucks.
Which is all delightfully postmodern and reflexive and all that, but bloody depressing at the same time.