Saturday, 20 February 2010


As little as 12% of news in your newspaper is generated by the journalists working for that paper.
This is according to a book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. The rest comes from wire copy - handed down by the Press Association and reworded, or not, according to where the journalist happens to exist on the deadline/laziness overlap or better still, cut and pasted from Press Releases. So if you design a letterhead with convincing enough authority you can write tomorrow's news by simply sending in results from a survey that you've made up. Hence you can create a headline on tomorrows Channel news reading 'Cat shit in Fray Bentos Chicken Curry Pies'. Or that's according to a report published today. If it goes to via the Press Association then when it's passed on to the news media they will not ask questions. The BBC (for one) as a matter of policy will not ask any other source. From your head to autocue without any intervening shilly-shallying or 'checking'. Luckily, no one would actually do this, no politician or CEO would stoop to influencing their image or spread rumours about their competitors in this way, even though it really does work and you will certainly get away with it. What's that all about? (That sentence is number 2 in an occasional series of ways to end convoluted blogs, the first being 'How Crazy is that?')

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Copywriting has changed over the years. Not fundamentally. Fundamentally it's exactly the same. It's still the art and science of using words for the mystical purpose for which they are most suited. That of inverted telepathy, or putting thoughts into other people's heads. To digress briefly, it is borderline hilarious that there are so many earnest scientific experiments in peer reviewed journals over the last century testing the possibility of tiny feats of telepathy. If someone in a room can predict the card that someone in another room has turned over, or pointed to, by a fraction of a percentage more often than chance alone might allow for statistical significance, it's a cause for excitement. Yet we are blind to the everyday miracle of language, that plants complex thoughts into other people's minds in great, fat, thick torrents all over the world on an increasingly brilliant scale. Or take the current batch of astonishing TV programmes in which people try to the contact people from the past by standing in a room with the lights out. They ask them questions, hear bumps and scream and swear when a mouse coughs on the other side of the room, or a mote of dust wanders guilelessly across the night vision camera lens. These terrified people then hand back to a studio audience to wonder and emote at the possibility that contact might have been made with people from the past. The murderers and their victims, the historical figures who were making known their tiniest thoughts, as imagined by people who coincidentally got paid for hearing them. Others watching at home could send in their own observations from watching webcams - cameras pointing at empty space - unlit empty space, and these too could be interpreted as voices of the dead. Strange how much entertainment is wrought from such darkened voids of nothing, broadcast at prime time, strange how much pleasure and titillation this provides from hour after hour of literally nothing, when interpreted as the faint expressions of those gone to the other side, when you can garner the very thoughts of Charles Dickens by the very ordinary feat of reading them. You can read a John Keats letter describing his stockinged foot in front of the fire. It's simple, everyday telepathy across time. But it's so mundane that it is not worth remarking upon. But that is what writing is, and copywriting is a kind of paid for, industrial version of this. Is , was and always will be. However, the way copywriting is judged has changed in the internationalist world of the internet. To write an apposite and mildly persuasive line is a kindly sport with its own pith and value as its only reward, or occasionally an actual trophy might be won. But nowadays there are new achievements to enjoy. A few days ago a cluster of words I wrote 'trended'. They trended No 1 in UK and No 10 worldwide on Twitter for a period of a few hours according to Times Online.
The words were more derided than applauded as it happened, but who cares. I trended. Interactive real time news and politics where there was once a docile cluster of persuasive words on paper. I feel I have anonymously contacted another dimension. To paraphrase Coriolanus's mother, Trending on Twitter more becomes a copywriter than gilt his trophy. Well, it's paraphrasing Shakespeare really. Although it's good to think about a telepathic link with a fictional character. He also said through Coriolanus himself, 'action is eloquence' so perhaps I shouldn't be writing at all, but twittering. Twittering is after all where word and action meet. In the bird-territory - mating -hunger world from which the word is derived, tweet is a functional noise. Words allow us to communicate with people from the past, even with fictional people from the past. But when those words are trending, they are being used to mark territory or a sexual display perhaps, in some pathetically abstract way. The words are being recycled as a locus for human behaviour. How crazy is that. (I think I should start a list of quick and easy ways to extract oneself from a long and convoluted blog.)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The League of One Ounce Mice

This is one of the very few inappropriate acronyms I recall from a list I compiled some years ago. It was a list created in reaction to the improbability that so many organizations, charities and medical conditions happening so serendipitously to be called by a name whose initials spelt out another word that elegantly summed up its mission statement. The chances of the most apt name for their body creating such a word I considered suspicious. I am not a cynic, but it was almost as if they had contrived these names for the very purpose of creating the acronym. Surely there would have to exist somewhere just as many inappropriate acronyms. So for every SAD, the seasonal affective disorder that oh so conveniently made people sad, there just had to be a Sitting On Floors Association. There had, or the world was making stuff up that wasn't real. Of course, the real world then came along to confound my fun. President Obama's attempt to save a million lives a year in the US (give or take) by introducing health reforms was derided by Republicans worried at how poor, unhealthy people keen to survive illness might interrupt the lucrative circle of insurance and health provision. The phrase that seemed to sum up the threat was 'death panels', a reference to the body that directs health resources here. And who are the death panels? I presume they mean the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Commonly known as NICE. Nice.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

When words collide

Notwithstanding the ridiculous infrequency of one's blogs, (the last entry appears to have been in 2006) I should say one of the things I like at the moment. The way words collide. It's only one of the things I like, but fundamental. Words make sentences according to rules, each word emitting a semantic pulse that colours and interrupts the pulses emitted from bordering words. An adjective will butter the following noun with a basting of meaning that throws up a new entity. For example the words blue and cigarette together will create somehow the sense of a roll of paper enclosing a cylinder of tobacco that is the very colour blue. If the next word is falls, then the roll of tobacco, still reeling from its violent meeting with the word blue is now descending, dragging the colour blue with it. How charmingly obvious, yet the sentence governs the whole affair, keeps it caged and tamed. The sentence keeps it motivated by the overriding intentions of the author. The blue cigarette doesn't fall in a vacuum (not unless the rest of the sentence happens to be 'in a vacuum' it doesn't. The phrase is also motivated. Above it is motivated by my need to generate an example, and that is generated by my motivation to write a blog. As mentioned in previous blogs, in my case that is to mop up unused time. So those words are all in service. However they needn't be. Grammarians and structuralists aside, words can act without authorization. When Afternoon acts on Mumps it generates a batch of totally new things. Memories, maybe. A time and an illness are not common bedfellows, so they throw up a neologistic sense of something being created. Let's try, Thursday dislocations, March Cataracts, Wartime cramp. They're all explosive new things, like mixing chemicals without the foreknowledge of their reactions. The magic is that you don't know what new chimera will be thrown up. Take Spray and Muffin. Two words that have no general grammatical relationship in the way that a colour and an object do, will have unpredictable results. Spray muffin is parsed to my ear in the same way as spray tan - a product that adds convenience to a desirable end result - the tan. Therefore a spray muffin is a feat of NPD by a bakery that gives you an instant hit of muffin from an aerosol. I leave the manufacturing industries to work out the detail.