Wednesday, 29 June 2011

JOHANN HARI: I'm sorry you didn't understand

Yesterday on Twitter I was accused of plagiarism. I deliberately mention Twitter here to highlight the fact that these accusations were confined to a single medium. It's not like real people found out about my plagiarism, just those damn Twitterers. The same thing happened to Jan Moir, Melanie Philips and my good pal Tanya Gold - twitter mobs. Baying hoardes of - ugh! - real people daring to criticise the good work of journalists.

This accusation is totally false – but I have reflected seriously on this and do have something to apologise for. This may seem contradictory and the fact that need to apologise would appear to undermine the first five words of that sentence. But no, it is not contradictory. As the Roman satirist Juvenal once told me over breakfast in Tuscany, "Peace visits not the guilty mind" - write and be damned, I say.

When you interview a writer – especially but not only when English isn't their first language – they will sometimes make a point that sounds clear when you hear it, but turns out to be incomprehensible or confusing on the page. In those instances, I have sometimes substituted a passage they have written or said more clearly elsewhere on the same subject for what they said to me, so the reader understands their point as clearly as possible. This is because readers are idiots and can't handle the truth, as Jack Nicholson once pointed out to me. Readers cannot be trusted to understand the words of the very famous or the highly intelligent because readers are neither famous or intelligent. Would you put Noam Chomsky in a room with Colin from Asda? Of course you wouldn't.

The quotes are always accurate representations of their words, inserted into the interview at the point where they made substantively the same argument using similar but less clear language. I did not and never have taken words from another context and twisted them to mean something different – I only ever substituted clearer expressions of the same sentiment, so the reader knew what the subject thinks in the most comprehensible possible words. Really this is the same point as above. I may have won the Orwell Prize but, by gods, I'm not Orwell. I remember him lecturing me once on never using words where they were not needed or unnecessary figures of speech. "George", I said to him, casually swilling my '68 Chianti, "I won your prize. You don't tell me how to write"

I stress: I have only ever done this where the interviewee was making the same or similar point to me in the interview that they had already made more clearly in print. Where I described their body language, for example, I was describing their body language as they made the same point that I was quoting – I was simply using the clearer words from their writing so the reader understood the point best. Good lord, plebs, why is this hard to understand? Yes, yes, I know you're not complaining about a lack of interminable description of body language and the inclusion of 'ums' and 'ahs' but I think it helps to reduce the argument ad absurdio. Remember - readers=idiots. They don't know what they want. "Give us the truth!", they shriek, but when I give them a higher, more beautiful truth they're not happy. There's no pleasing some people.

This is one reason - restated several times - why none of my interviewees have, to my knowledge, ever said they were misquoted in my nearly 10 years with The Independent, even when they feel I've been very critical of them in other ways. My critics have focused on my interview with Gideon Levy as supposedly distorted. So what does Gideon Levy say? These are his words: "I stand behind everything that was published in the interview. It was a totally accurate representation of my thoughts and words." I'd like to stress here the relative importance of my subjects of my 'intellectual portraits' with the profane voices of the masses. They are more important than some morose legion of unseen readers. Have readers complained? Yes, of course. Does it matter? No. Thankfully, I'd only get in real trouble if the interviewees complained. It's easy to dismiss the chaotic shrilling of a murder of twitterers.

None of this fits any definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is presenting somebody else's intellectual work as your own – whereas I have always accurately attributed the ideas of (say) Gideon Levy to Gideon Levy. Nor can it be regarded as churnalism. Churnalism is a journalist taking a press release and mindlessly recycling it. It is not a journalist carefully reading over all a writer's books and quoting it to best reflect how they think. Anyway, look, bloggers; terms like 'plagiarism' and 'churnalism' are the words of journalists, of real writers. They are not yours to bandy around like some free WordPress template. I decide what's plagiarism here, thank you very much, and this is not it. Get back to complaining about the Daily Mail.

Over the years I have interviewed some people who have messages we desperately need to hear – from Gideon Levy about Israel, to Malalai Joya about Afghanistan, to Gerry Adams about how to end a sectarian war. Just this week, I interviewed one of the bravest people I have ever met – Shirin Ebadi. I would hate people to not hear these vital messages because they incorrectly think the subjects have been falsely quoted. Every word I have quoted has been said by my interviewee, and accurately represents their view. I hope people continue to hear their words. Imagine if I weren't here to provide this divine passage between mere mortals and the denizens of intellectual celebrity? What cost an interview that the subject was not completely happy with? Let us be clear; the squarking criticism of ten thousand bloggers will never outweigh the importance of me keeping Gideon Levy happy.

You may remember in the distant past, somewhere near the beginning of this rambling exercise in self-justification and education of the common man, that I said I had something to apologise for. My editor tells me I need to say sorry for something, whatever it is, so: I'm sorry. OK? Really you should be apologising to me for causing this inconvenience in the first place, but needs must.

I can only hope this has been an edifying experience for the unclean, intellectually barren wastelands of Twitter, and I am sorry for not providing it sooner.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Times Higher Education special

In a new series of posts, I will be publishing round-ups from the web on the subject of something completely unrelated to higher education. They'll probably be about cats or robots or something.

Because I won't be posting anything related to higher education, I assume that publications such as The Times Higher Education supplement will have no problem with me titling my new series 'THE Times Higher Education'.

You may think, 'that's absurd - all these posts about robots and cats have nothing to do with higher education! Moreover, there's already a publication called Times Higher Education; this is arrogant and confusing'.

Well, you're wrong.

We write about different things (they write about schools and stuff while I write about robotic cats) so nobody will be confused. And it's easy enough to randomly add together perfectly common words like 'times' and 'education' - lots of people have probably done it. You can't claim ownership of words in everyday use, for heaven's sake!

Plus, I have a higher readership than them so it's pointless to disagree with me. And I'm only publishing these THE posts on p. 52 of the printed version of The Quail anyway, so who cares.

Next week in THE Times Higher Education: Cyborg newts

See also: The Times Higher Education Correspondence at THE real Bloggerheads

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Newspaper websites ranked according to number of articles using the word 'bikini'

Daily Express: 2,510 articles mentioning the word 'bikini'
Daily Star: 3.520
The Guardian: 5,100
The Mirror: 6,320
The Sun: 49,400
The Daily Mail: 155,000

(image results: 709,000)

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Mr @Arseburgers responds to the Telegraph

The Quail believes strongly in right to reply. Guy Walters' focus on one or two Twitterers in his article, 'Jan Moir unfairly vilified by Twitter mob' without first asking them for comment is therefore uncool. Here, Arseburgers, one of those named by Walters, gives his considered response.

A couple of weeks ago it was pointed out to me by a few Twitter users that I had one of my tweets edited and quoted by Guy Walters in a Telegraph article. In it, he discusses a piece by Jan Moiron of The Daily Fail in which she accuses some 'celebs' of being less than genuine in their condolences [to other celebrities suffering grief or loss] and best wishes in the tragic events of another celebrity's life! the reason? because they had the audacity to use twitter to offer their thoughts and said condolences!

Apparently the 'twitter mob' was led by Lord Alan Sugar! news to me as not only have I not been made a member of his 'mob', I didn't follow him until after the event, only because Walters (or The chinless c*nt that I always call men called Guy, mainly cos they always drive TVR's and think their jumpers are scarves?) made me aware that Sugar may have a mob I might like to apply to be a member of.

Now here's a thing, my attempt to comment in an offensive way on Moiron's article was a completely original thought, so there Walters, do some fucking research, you can even call me ifya like, i'll let you know if I was inspired by anyone else. Regular followers know that I often post my number when I'm pissed, usually at about 3am.

Now, here's something that bothers me, young Guyster the chinless shows his absolute lack of understanding with regards twitter when like a spoilt little twat, probably called something like Guy quotes this in his article regarding The 'Godfather' of the 'mob' to which I aspire to become a member, who he believes Sugar to be: (Strangely, Lord Sugar does not mention that Moir's piece refers to his tweets as "illiterate". She's right, I follow him, and they are. You can tell Sugar made a real effort with his Moir tweet, but look at that comma after condolences! Whoops!) Now, what immediately springs to mind is, what a total and utter c*nt! did that fuckwit just critisise the punctuation in what was pretty assuredly a genuine display of condolence? Surely fucking not! Hang on a mo, i'll just check; Yup, he did. I think I need to lie down.

Walters the chinless, in his article sarcastically refers to me after writing my tweet that he edited as 'A pleasant chap called Arseburgers'. Now, as you all know, on occasion that can be true, ergo the sarcasm was uncalled for and frankly not to witty. More often than not, I'm either bland, excited, boring or bored, unpleasant and often downright fucking rude, atleast I certainly hope that's how I come accross.

The irony of the existence of Moirons article re the use of twitter in a way she does not approve leads to the irony of the existence of the great Chinlesses's' (how the fuck should I know where the comma goes, and frankly, do I give a fuck?) article leads to the only article made up of more than 140 characters that is not ironic. This article is about Journiots (see what i've done there, eh, eh, eh?, chinless called us tweeters 'twidiots'! I was so fucking impressed by his wit I adapted it!) Fucking clever eh!

In conclusion, every one that follows me on twitter for more than an hour will be aware that I have an opinion on everything from nuclear physics, micro biology, brain surgery and the lower leg hairs of the Peruvian caterpiller, shit! i've even been known to comment on stuff i'm not an authority on, such as beer and telly. So here's my point Walters the chinless and Moiron, know this, there are in my opinion two rules to the use of twitter, rule 1: 140 characters or less. Rule 2: with some character please.

Best regards (he started the sarcasm)

Friday, 18 February 2011

Response from the PCC

Received today via quailmail.

Thanks for your recent query to the PCC regarding communication you had received from the Daily Mail.

The original article was subject to a complaint which is in the process of being resolved by the newspaper to the satisfaction of the complainant. We cannot go into details of the resolution negotiated by the PCC (to respect the privacy of the complainant) but clearly the Daily Mail is addressing the concerns of the complainant.

It is the case that the PCC always does everything it can to negotiate a satisfactory resolution between complainant and the publication involved.

The PCC has not made any direct requests to bloggers or third parties. The PCC independently enforces the Editors' Code of Practice by which newspapers and magazines - who subscribe to the self-regulatory system - agree to abide. Clearly the newspaper concerned (following the wishes of the complainant, who may be distressed by the content of the original article) can only request that repeated text be removed by a blogger or third party.
Emphasis mine.

Please note that prior to this, my only communication to the PCC has been via Twitter, asking them if they could confirm that they had requested bloggers to remove content.

As yet, I have received no reply from the Daily Mail to the letter below.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The PCC has told us to remove our article so we'd like you to remove any evidence it ever existed from your blog, thanks.

Received today by quailmail:

Dear Sir/Madam,

It appears that you have reproduced parts of an article from our website (link below).

We have received a complaint from the Press Complaints Commission about this article and have as a result removed it from our websites and agreed to request that you do the same.

We would therefore ask that you remove this material and confirm removal.

Yours sincerely,

[name removed]
Deputy Managing Editor

Dear [name removed],

Please could you provide a copy of the PCC's ruling and the request that content be removed from the above URL. Could you also clarify the commission's specific requests on exactly what must be removed and their remit in ruling on non-newspaper blog content which - as far as I am aware - is not governed by the PCC. I was under the impression that blogs were not bound by PCC guidelines.

I would also appreciate some further information as to whether this is an ongoing complaint, if the article on MailOnline has been removed pending investigation or because it was found to contravene PCC guidelines, and, if the PCC has objected to content at the above URL, what specific issues they may have found.

Additionally, as quotes found in the blog post in question were taken from a print copy of the Daily Mail, is a notification of the ruling to be published in a future edition of the Daily Mail? I am more than happy to clarify that the original article on MailOnline has been removed and a correction provided in print, if this is acceptable.

D. Quail.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

FAO Sue Ryan. Re: Give me a job.

Via, inexplicably, The Guardian, this amazing opportunity:

Daily Mail

  • Britain’s most successful newspaper group is offering would-be reporters and writers an exciting and challenging yearlong training course, plus the chance to work at the Daily Mail and Mail Online
  • We are looking for bright, sharp, intelligent writers who believe they can be fast-tracked to the very top
  • You’ll be on the best journalism course in the business – and be paid a competitive salary while you train
  • Successful applicants will probably have completed post-graduate journalism training or had experience working in newspapers

Apply by February 21, with your CV, 200 words on why you think you could be a Mail journalist, a 200-word news story and a selection of up to six cuttings and send to Sue Ryan, Trainee Reporters’ Scheme, Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry St, London W8 5TT. Please send queries to

Super awesome! I'd love to work with Paul Dacre, I hear he's quite the wit.

Dear Sue,

You may have noticed (in fact, judging from the IP addresses that visit this blog, you've definitely noticed) that I've been charitably rewriting your articles - for free! - for about two years now.

As anyone can see, my edits are a massive improvement over the originals. Yes, my posts are are consistently grammatically incorrect, poorly structured, inaccurate, hypocritical, bilious nonsense but, hey, there's no greater compliment that imitation, right? I do a mean Littlejohn, too, so if the big fella's not feeling up to his 4000 mile commute, I'm happy to stand in (I will require a full brain-scrub after a day in character as Dickie L, mind.)

Like your current staff, I'm able to feign outrage at the most inane of banalities, point and scream at the most harmless of dead homosexuals, clutch the nearest pearl necklace at even the slightest whiff of brown people, and type one handed.

Hell, I've even written training guides for aspiring hacks - really, I should be employing you.

Also, a friend of mine has a cousin who knows a girl at her local which is only a few miles away from a house where a couple used to live who once spoke to a man who was related to this old lady who says she bought a car off a man who stalked a woman on Facebook, so I'm not short of leads for stories. Like, you can't make that stuff up, can you?

Obviously, I am willing to make up quite a lot of stuff for money, though.

It will please you to know I don't require any training - but I would like a hammock in my office. I will have my own office, won't I? Oh, and I'll need a fully-stocked minibar so I can take breakfast at work. I hear newspaper interns and graduates are treated well and paid handsomely, so I trust this won't be a problem.
Write back soon! I don't usually get up before 3.30pm, so don't call before then, ta.

Yours journalistically,
D. Quail (expat)

Also see other applications from Angry Mob, Anton Vowl, Primly Stable, and 5 Chinese Crackers.