Monday, October 08, 2007

Hacked off

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.

9 comments:

BiB said...

That is a tad lazy (though I imagine widespread) and I'd also noticed that non-story about 90-year-olds being 90. I'm 37, which I think is the new 36, and I'm going to write to some paper or other and ask them if they want to come and photograph me looking all 36 and...

Anyway, did you win and what was your specialised subject? 1994... Must have been Magnus still. Did he have to hurry you? Did you pass? Tell us everything.

Billy said...

I watched the one with Jennifer Aniston as the specialist subject. She hardly got any right.

dh said...

I could be wrong but I think it's what happens when everybody tries to pin down the Zeitgeist...the Zeitgeist becomes the people trying to pin it down.

Murph said...

At least you would have missed the toe-curling little mid-game chat with Mr Harruphries when he pretends to give a shit about your subject.

Tim Footman said...

Further details here, Bib.

But did they ask about her hair, Billy?

Actually, dh, "The Zeitgeist" would be a tremendous specialised subject for Mastermind...

I don't mind that, particularly, Murph. It's when he's more interested in the contestant's job. "So, you're a policeman, eh? Bet you have to fill in lots of forms?"

Spinsterella said...

"Pop Music 1955-1985"?

What, ALL of it?

FUCK ME!

llewtrah said...

Googling oneself a.k.a. "ego surfing". It's fun to see who or what shares your name too.

Tim Footman said...

Yes, it was a bit over-ambitious, Spin. But someone told me that the first ever winner, back in 1972, chose something like 'Classical Music 1550-1900', and someone else picked 'The Visual Arts'.

Indeed, Llewtrah. I got a guy from the Canadian longshoremen's union, a Christian singer-songwriter and a burglar.

Jun Okumura said...

...and Foot-man is the new Meter-maid...