Carmageddon may be coming – but what about wetsuits?

1996 Honda Ballade

The Honda waits in the driveway for its next mission. Picture: Jak Seddon

When a friend shared an article entitled Carmageddon is Coming on Facebook, I read it with interest, and some irritation.
The sub-heading of the article says humanity is “on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption in transport history”. Writer Angus Hervey lays out what he thinks is going to happen to the transport industry over the next few years, courtesy of three technological waves:
• Our ability to summon a car and a driver with our smartphone
• The arrival of the electric vehicle
• “Artificial intelligence, which paves the way for autonomy” – in other words driverless vehicles.

Says Hervey: “Within a few years, electric vehicles are going to be cheaper, more durable and more reliable than petrol powered cars, autonomy will be good enough that you don’t need human drivers and everyone will be able to hail a car on their phone… we don’t have to wait for people to get rid of their old cars; they simply walk out their front door one morning and decide they would prefer to hail an autonomous, electric vehicle.”

Charming as this vision of carless freedom is, I had a question: Would I walk out of the front door with a child, a school backpack, a model of the Taj Mahal made of matchsticks, a cricket tog bag, my own lunch bag, the office’s new coffee supplies and the cake dish I want to return to a friend on the way home and then decide the thing I want is to hail a ride? Perhaps not. Continue reading

What it means to be a copy editor

Marooned boat in a drought

The worst drought in living memory? Picture: Luis Paredes, freeimages.com

Copy editors have many things to worry about (think commas). And making sure that language is used with precision is one of those things.
In a recent a television programme, the presenter said that a particular place was experiencing the wettest winter “in living memory”.
Since such declarations about the weather happen often, and because there is, these days, always a hidden sub-text about how the observed phenomenon proves or disproves climate change theory, I started to ponder: what does “living memory” mean exactly?
The online Collins Dictionary says:

“If you say that something is, for example, the best, worst, or first thing of its kind in living memory, you are emphasizing that it is the only thing of that kind that people can remember.”

But which people? To a ten-year-old child, memory only goes back seven or eight years to when he or she is two or three. And for someone who has reached the age of 90, memory goes back many decades.
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How to generate ideas for your writing

Painting by Adriano Cecchi

Learn the fine art of eavesdropping. Painting by Adriano CecchiI had forgotten how much I enjoy training.

Last night, I did a two-hour workshop on making blog content interesting at Bergvliet High School in Cape Town, which runs a very good continuing education programme.
It was small group, which made it possible for everybody to ask all their questions, and for me to answer queries and go over material in some detail.
Arising out of the workshop, I thought I’d share our starting point, which was how to generate ideas for writing interesting blog posts. Continue reading

Thoughts on web design: it begins with an article

Web design

Picture: bykst/Pixabay

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an editor in possession of a new website (or a newspaper) must be in want of a redesign.
The Jane Austen phrasing was irresistible, but this is one of the true certainties of journalism: when a publication gets a new editor, he or she will want it to look different.
When I was a print journalist I live through three different redesigns. And in my time in online journalism, I think there were four. Of course, I may have repressed the memory of some, so there may have been more. And we’re not talking changing a masthead here, we’re talking making everything new from the ground up.
These occasional fits of rebranding entail a lot of work for production staff. And they usually make readers very cross, until everyone gets used to it all and life continues as normal. Continue reading

How to curate content (aka be an editor)

Trash Icon

File photo: Ivo Ruijters

The recent furore surrounding the publication of a hoax blog post at Huffington Post SA has had me thinking – about hate speech (which I wrote about here), and about the process by which decisions are made about publication or non-publication of a particular piece of writing.
In years of experience at IOL, I had more unsolicited pieces of writing cross my email inbox than I care to think about now. Over time, I learned how to make fast choices about whether I wanted to use the content or not.
I thought it might be useful to write down that mental process, for the benefit of younger people wondering how this is done. I’ll take you through my own personal checklist (note – this was never a formalised policy at IOL, and I no longer work there and can’t comment on how things might now be done at that website).
The steps below relate to online publishing, rather than print. And there are factors in the process that would probably shock print journalists of the old school (especially the focus on “hits”). But I want to paint the picture as it happens in the real world.

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When is speech hateful – and when is it hate speech?

South African journalists (and perhaps some bemused bystanders) have been consumed for the last week or so by a chain of events centred on the country’s instance of the Huffington Post.

In brief, this is what happened: Huff Post SA published a piece saying white men should be disenfranchised. This duly went viral. Then things got sticky. It transpired the piece had been written as a hoax by a white man trying to make a point about the way in which journalists publish things that confirm their own biases (at least that is my understanding). In the fall-out, that man has lost his job, the editor of the Huffington Post has resigned and many, many opinion pieces have been written.

More importantly, the country’s Press Ombudsman has pronounced on the issue, declaring that the original article was, among other things, hate speech.

I don’t intend to add to the many opinions about all this. Rather, I want to look at the issue of hate speech – from the point of view of a journalism trainer.

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