Archive | October, 2021

Slightly missing links

26 Oct

The trouble with hyperlinks is that, even though they don’t mean to, they add emphasis. They are, after all, in a different colour to the rest of the text, and often underlined. They stand out. Which means you need a bit of an ear for the rhythms of a sentence when you put them in:

“Why at the end of it” stops a little short of the end, as it were, as does the link to the obscure … provision. And although “Dominic Cummings claimed” is fine, “said Johnson told” unfortunately avoids highlighting either of the two salient parts of the sentence: Ian Paisley Junior and the idea of the story.

These are just infelicities of emphasis rather than meaning – rather like the Express’s erstwhile habit of putting sudden capitals in the WRONG place. Occasionally, though, an off-target hyperlink can create more peculiar effects, like this:

Here, even though you’re supposed to overlook these links, it throws you. Semantically, the verb phrase that begins “bring prosecutions for killings” finishes at “to an end”. But the emphatic red text stops three words early and encourages you to think the phrase has come to an end as well. So for a moment you think the government is planning to start bringing Troubles prosecutions again, not stop them.

Of course, you work it out in the end. But we’re supposed to be saving readers as much work as possible, so, along with colliding English-language news agendas and launching without revising, this is another thing old print lags have to get used to. In the old days, we would never underline anything at all; now we do it by accident.


Subs – please check

12 Oct

HMS Ambush on sea trials. © Crown copyright 2012


“We have been regularly referring to the value of the Aus-French submarine deal as $90bn,” writes an astute member of the Tribune’s night shift to colleagues. “But this is 90bn AUSTRALIAN dollars, not US dollars.”

That is an excellent point. “This makes sense for an Australian audience but is confusing for everyone else. Lots of writers and subs are referring back to Aus pieces for their info and copying this sum into stories for a US, UK and global audience. Non-Australia folk: please be on the alert for this (and for similar Australian stories of global import). Australia folk: if a story is very much global, would you consider using the notation A$? Anyway, something for discussion.”

It certainly is something for discussion: this blog has wrestled for years with the problems of anglophone news organisations trying to bestride the globe while remaining part of a national dialogue. The Aukus submarines deal, agreed between Australia, the UK and the US, looks like a perfect anglosphere news story – after all, these are the three countries where forward-looking British papers such as the Tribune now have newsrooms. But although that means the coverage has been panoramic, the small but essential details are proving as troublesome as ever.

Some newsdesks did fall into the trap. Eastern Eye converted the “$90bn” that France stands to lose from the cancellation of its own submarine deal with Australia into “£66bn”:

But that is the sterling equivalent of 90 billion US dollars, not Australian; the correct figure for A$ is about £48bn.

The Tribune does not appear to have gone that far, but by saying “$90bn” in several pieces without context we may have been giving the impression – it’s easily done – that we were speaking of the world’s reserve currency when we were not. And in this article in the Mail, focusing on the Biden angle and with a US political writer leading the bylines,

the $90bn figure also stands unqualified.*

Interestingly, the same article gives comparative costings of various submarine types further down,

and those figures are not in US dollars either. A Virginia-class boat seems to cost about US$3.4bn (which is about A$4.5bn) and a new HMS Astute would set you back about £1.4bn-£1.6bn, which is not as much as $2.6bn in US currency. It would seem that the costs in this US-focused article are being given consistently in Australian dollars, but without ever saying so.

Why would you not specify? Perhaps because, as we have discussed so often, journalists at the Tribune and similar organisations are often encouraged not to. Our purpose in expanding across the anglosphere is to provide local coverage in underserved markets, to bed in as a homegrown news source. So we write in different flavours of English depending on which continent we’re on, and speak of weights and measures as locals would. In which case, as the night sub’s email suggests, adopting international terminology for a national currency is something that very much needs to be “considered” before it is enforced. Too much globalist perspective, too much wire-service neutrality, betrays you as an outsider.

This causes a slight problem when local stories meant for one country’s consumption become visible on another country’s homepage. But it causes even greater problems when the three jurisdictions you cover collide in the same global story. Because then, whose worldview wins?

*“Advanced” warning – I know, I know.