Let’s celebrate those who uncover corruption

“The government is a cover for corruption.”

In the dying days of 2021, working with Al Jazeera playing the background, these words in the subtitles of By The People, a documentary by Fatima Lianes about an indigenous community in Mexico, made me look up from my screen.

That one sentence (which you can see about 20 minutes into the video) is breath-taking in its simplicity. And it encapsulates so much that people feel is wrong with the world we live in now: instead of serving the people, governments simply serve as the façade behind which corruption flourishes.
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Nope, you can’t have everything (and that means everyone)

The question of electricity (and where it comes from) has been much on the minds of South Africans lately.

Ongoing entrenched problems at the nation’s power utility mean we suffer from “loadshedding” – rotational power cuts, aimed at preventing the national grid from collapse. (There’s a good explainer here).

The latest round of these power cuts happened at around the same time as sustained international news coverage of COP26 and the climate crisis.
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The elements of a good headline

Newspaper page with headlines

The “joy to the weed” headline is a perfect example of one that relies on cultural understanding – in this case, it’s a reference to the Christian carol “Joy to the World”. Picture: Hayden Walker, Unsplash.

In the good old days of print journalism, in the depths of a smoke-filled subs room, there was one thing a junior sub-editor* wanted: for a grizzled night editor, or revise sub, to look over and say “Good headline”.

The elements of a good headline then were that it was clever or witty, or contained a subtle play on words. And the basis of that cleverness was the assumption that the newspaper and its readers had a shared understanding of the world.

The first time I got that “good headline” accolade was for a brief two-paragraph story about a doctor somewhere in the East who was using ants (or some by-product of ants) to cure people of a long-forgotten (by me) ailment. My headline was:

Take two ants,
call me later

In a 1982 medical paper, the reference is explained – it’s based on “take two aspirin and call me in the morning”, an age-old joke about the telephone advice given by a doctor trying to get a little extra sleep. Continue reading

How to spot plagiarism – for editors

One of the many jobs of an editor is to be on the lookout for plagiarism. I don’t have a magic formula for spotting it, but I do have some tips that might help.

First off, what is plagiarism?

The dictionary definition goes like this:

“The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”

From an editing point of view, it most often means that a text, or a piece of text, have been copied verbatim from someone else: in other words, they were not written by the person who claims to have written them.

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Life’s compasses: What I learned from Terry Pratchett

Earlier this year, I set out to write about the things that are my life’s compasses, and the directions they have sent me in, with the hope that some of the things I have learned will be of help to other people.

Previously: Life’s compasses: What I learned from Star Wars

Today, the guide we follow is fantasy writer Terry Pratchett. Literary snobs look down on fantasy, and they are often right, But, as observed by science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon: “ninety percent of everything is crap”. Pratchett is in the 10% that is wonderful. In his Discworld series, he reflects on humanity and its failings and triumphs, with a deep and compassionate insight – and with a storytelling power to rival Dickens.
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