Friday, 25 February 2011

Fallibility is a Human Condition

Kudos this morning to Stefano Hatfield, Executive Editor of the i, the funky cheap alternative to the Indy. Unfortunately I missed whatever faux pas they'd committed to require his dry apology, but I was assured that they might have a bit of a laugh putting the paper together.

Less amusing was the small but significant error made on the opposite page. In their Space Travel: Final Countdown graphic, detailing the last voyage of the shuttle Discovery, they included several famous spacecraft images - with the starship Enterprise included as a bit of light-hearted fun.

I'm cynical enough now that this type of forced humour just makes my skin crawl. However, as a Trek fan (not Trekkie, nobody uses the term after the nineties except jaded hacks), I noticed the artist had used a schematic of the USS Enterprise-B. That ship, under the command of Captain John Harriman, was launched in 2293 - or 1994 for us terrestrial viewers. Referring to Captain Kirk's 1966 maiden voyage indicates you wish to refer to the original USS Enterprise, as seen thirty years previously.

I understand that hordes of readers will roll their eyes, dismissing this nitpicking as the mark of the socially-inept fan. Who cares about distinguishing between pictures of made-up ships? The answer is - editors. They dislike getting letters of complaints, snide twitter messages, or blogs by fans pointing out their staff's mistakes. More importantly
, it indicates a fallibility amongst the workforce that they've already had to apologise for on the opposite page!

Let's dig a little deeper into this error, and try and determine its cause, shall we? The first stop is that limitless boon to overworked, underappreciated journalists the world over; Google, and more importantly, its image search. A quick search of the term Enterprise unsurprisingly brings up a wealth of pictures from Star Trek. The very first picture is of Kirk's 1960s Enterprise, a curvaceous object that looks like some Habitat lamp. It's correct - but for the graphic in question, we need a schematic. Scroll down to the third page, and a perfect image shows up.

Never mind the fact that it says Enterprise-B at the top of the picture. Just rip out what you need, splatter a few lines of prose, and knock out another article. Job done. Except that it's blatant confirmation of all the criticisms that can be levelled at journalists - the laziness, the overuse of cliche, the lack of fact-checking.

What is even more disappointing is the evident attitude behind it. "Who'll care about the accuracy, except some spotty Trekkie anoraks?" Quite apart from the fact that it's a shocking attitude to take towards accuracy of any kind, it's also deplorable to pass judgement on someone else's interests like that. I can't recall the last time a train carriage full of drunk Star Trek fans assaulted anyone or destroyed any property, or the last time a Trek actor got paid fifty million pounds to kick a ball around for ninety minutes, cop off with another actor's wife, and drag the whole sordid mess through the tabloids.

Our harried hack signs off with a sly smile, mentioning the "countless bad catchphrases. Beam me up, Scotty..." With a sigh that could be heard on Vulcan, planet-wide hordes of fans will tiredly point out the line was never spoken in Star Trek, ever. So, the journalist's famous list of 'countless bad catchphrases' comes down to one - that was incorrect. So, zero, then.

Back to the countless bad cliches, Independent.


  1. You know, you really don't have a life and I'm sure your girlfriend is really a Japanese Love Pillow if this is the most interesting thing you can blog about. I mean, I would have thought you could write about all the CDs bands send you as part of your radio show.

    Glad some of us have more interesting things to write about ;-)

  2. You cheeky blighter! :D

    For your information I haven't yet arranged contact with record companies to get promo material.

    And more importantly, as a blog about my interests and journalism, where the two cross over seems to be a natural hunting ground for material!

    Cheers anyhow!