Daily Archives: 3 August 2007

How to write badly—a proud winner tells all

Gerald began—but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash—to pee.”

This piece of prose by Jim Gleeson— a “blend of awkward syntax, imminent disaster and bathroom humor [that] offends both good taste and the English language”—has trouced thousands of others in an annual contest that salutes bad writing and awards a $250 prize.

How did he do it?

“It’s like you take two thoughts that are not anything like each other and you cram them together by any means necessary,” Gleeson said.

Read the full story: Top prize for bad prose

Also read: The bad writing contest


How should publications deal with plagiarists?

# When Hindustan Times editor V.N. Narayanan was found to have flicked 10 paragraphs and 1,023 words, verbatim, from a Bryan Appleyard column in The Sunday Times, London, he was sent away without the paper explaining to the reader why he was sacked. Narayanan dutifully popped up as the head of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s journalism school in Bangalore.

# When Nikhat Kazmi, the film reviewer of The Times of India, was revealed to have filched whole sentences and paragraphs from Roger Ebert‘s review of Shark Tale in the Chicago Sun-Times, the old lady of Boribunder barely looked askance and her “reviews” continue to appear to this day.

# The Hindu‘s Gautam Bhaskaran has similarly been caught with his pants down.

How should newspapers and magazines deal with imagination-starved staffers who steal the most vital commodity of our business—words?

Should they be banished without a second thought? If so, for how long? Should they be given time off to get their bearings in order (like Jayson Blair)? Should the publication tell the world what has happened? Should other publications ever hire them again?

What is the right punishment for the crime?

On Slate, Jack Shafer writes on Michael Finkel, the New York Times journalist who was caught for some major inconsistencies in a 2002 piece on the life and work conditions of a young laborer on an Ivory Coast cocoa plantation, and who has just written the cover story for the July 2007 issue of National Geographic.

“Not many publications force journalists to pay their debts to their profession and their readers. Often, they don’t even send the bill…

“If I had the constitution of a hanging judge, which I don’t, I’d have sent Finkel directly to the gallows for his lies. He deliberately wrote things that were not true and called the work journalism. If that doesn’t constitute a professional death wish, I don’t know what does.”

Read the full story: The return of Michael Finkel