Archive | September, 2022

The case of the recurring rowlocks

27 Sep

Another baffling incident in a Sherlock Holmes film and another flurry of newspapers swirls across the screen. BRITISH SUBJECT MISSING ON AMERICAN TRAIN. Hang on, though – haven’t we seen some of these stories before?

In The Woman In Green it was the London Daily Chronicle. In this one, Sherlock Holmes In Washington, it’s the London Beacon. But in both cases the Oxford rowing coaches still seem to be having trouble with their swivels.

The two films are two years apart, so it would seem that these experiments must have gone on quite a long time. (Although, as we discussed last time, this story, which seems to be a real-life one, must date back about 10 years, as swivels instead of fixed rowlocks were coming into vogue by the mid-1930s.)

And as before, a largely convincing-looking paper – much better than standard movie-prop fare – is let down by one item: in this case the Middlesex v Derbyshire match report. Two county cricket teams playing in a Test match? I hardly think so. It’s a good thing Watson, still recovering from the shock of learning the Navy has piled up 428-6 against the Army at Lord’s, apparently missed seeing it on the front page.


Glossed in translation

13 Sep

At the anglosphere-girdling modern Tribune, as regular readers know, the Australian reporters write Australian and the American reporters write American, and we don’t enforce British English anywhere except Britain. But there is one partial exception to this rule and that is for the original Tribune – the print Tribune.

The newspaper takes in reports from all three newsrooms but is only distributed in Britain, and so what was initially written for the understanding of customers in Melbourne or Pittsburgh can subsequently find itself in front of a completely different audience. And if you’re editing it for print, for an entirely British audience, you do have to intervene and translate – sometimes quite intensively.

Take, for example, this piece, filed online in Australia for Australians, and then sent through as-is for print in the UK:

Putting oneself in the place of a British reader, one might find oneself asking:


• What’s that?

• What were they?

• Where?

Scott Morrison needs no introduction at all to Australians, but British audiences may need a gentle reminder of who he is. “Federal parliament” is a significant distinction to make in a country that also has state parliaments, but the distinction is probably unnecessary for overseas readers, who will be working on the assumption that only controversies at national level will be making the foreign pages. The five secret self-appointments were the talk of the country at the time, but presenting them like this – in a brief, second-news-cycle way, for people already closely informed – doesn’t sit entirely well 10,000 miles away, where readers may have missed the story. And Cook here is “the Division of Cook”, that is to say Morrison’s parliamentary constituency in Sydney – not a name that will resonate at all with Britons.

So after some British-ising, you might end up with something like this:

I’m not sure if there are any “rules” to this yet, but a few principles, as illustrated above, often seem to apply:

(1) Anything that is too obvious to mention for the piece’s original audience (eg, who Scott Morrison is), may need explicitly putting in.

(2) Any detail obscure enough that even the home audience needs to be reminded of it (for example, the name of Morrison’s seat) may need taking out, simply on the grounds that it’s too much information for an audience already processing a lot of unfamiliarity.

(3) If the home audience is on the second or third news cycle for the story, it may be worth re-editing to take the story back “half a cycle”, so to speak, for an overseas audience – in other words, you may not be able to rely as heavily on readers’ knowledge of prior developments as the home reporter is entitled to.

This might seem like a very traditional kind of editing – spelling things out and putting sentences into British English, damn it – but in fact it, too, is a product of the burgeoning world of anglosphere news. In the old days, when your Australian bureau filed a story, it would have been written for the desk in London, and all the glosses and explanations necessary for comprehension in Britain would have already been added. It’s only now, with unmediated copy arriving from two newsrooms with their own priorities, that the job needs to be done at home base. And at the Tribune, the task seems to have fallen to the copy desk – another small example of how much growing online news organisations need subeditors to keep things running smoothly.