Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pressing matters

Over at Grazerlei Frau Malzahn sings the praises of Austria's national newspapers. Her thoughts struck a chord - though in a syncopated kind of sense - and prompt me to disrupt my blog silence.

Because at the moment hardly a day goes by that I don't feel the visceral urge to loudly (and in the presence of others) bemoan the failings of the German national press, whose manifold weaknesses are multiplied in the über-sloppy editing of the online versions I tend to read, with their embarrassing grammatical mistakes and pseudo-racy headlines.

Consider, for instance, a certain liberal paper from Munich, which I always thought had wit, style and a certain mature balance. Not so. Said paper has increasingly become a disappointment to me, not only because of its flawed content, but also because its employees seem to stubbornly resist my didactic intervention.

A few years ago they insisted on illustrating an article about German-born writer and artist Judith Kerr with an photo of Germaine Greer (who is only 15 or so years younger than Kerr). Although I pestered them with Emails demanding the immediate righting of this faux-pas, Germaine stayed put and me frustrated.

Then there was the publication of a photograph of Margaret Thatcher and a pubescently hirsute William Hague during the 1977 Tory party conference, which ran: "Margaret Thatcher and a [emphasis mine] high school student at an election rally."

Did they bother to change it after I tried to set matters right? Repeatedly. No.

Not that all this would matter to most German readers: These are minor details that irritate only crazy Anglophiles (though woe to an English paper that gets its Umlauts or German geography wrong) and could be ignored if they weren't part of a larger pattern that even impinges on genuinely German issues. Hence a few weeks ago, in said paper, the author of a thoughtful little column-filler (so thoughtful I can't tell you what it was about) used the beautiful term "Hybris" - the German equivalent of "hubris."

Only to spell it "Hypris."

Which - as any educated speaker of High German will tell you - sounds ... not so good.

I think I can explain this mistake. I'm pretty convinced that the author was a Franconian - i.e. from the impoverished and part-Protestant northern parts of Bavaria, where people famously can't pronounce p's and t's. Which is why there is the singular distinction between "hard b's" and "soft b's." And a tendency to comically overcompensate by those who want to sound really posh.

You want to know how to make a pretentious Franconian blush? Ask him or her to say the word "Anekdote."

But cultural differences are really no excuse. There must be standards! To have a Franconian write articles in a national newspaper may be considered a misfortune. To have her or his spelling checked by a Franconian copyeditor looks like carelessness.

Which pilfered witticism my brings me to today's journalistic clanger, where a picture-heavy piece on film adaptations of novels inspired by Oliver Parker's recent Dorian Gray opens with the following apodictic wisdom:

"Only a handful of books were written in 1890s England. And these are, again and again, turned into movies."

Only a handful of books? In which (Bavarian) University Department of Comparative Literature did you receive the degree that qualified you to write such nonsense, honey?


Jasper Milvain said...

Is it not possible that "only a handful of novels" is a joke? Or at least an attempted joke?

The Wife said...

Nice thought, but really: jokes and Tschermans don't really go together, do they?

Frau Mahlzahn said...

****Tschermans don't really go together, do they?****

At least in this case that particular sense of humor would be sort of twisted...

And singing the praises for Austrian newspaper, haha. A couple of months ago I got a phone call from the chief editor of one of the more important Austrian papers, who did not appreciate an E-Mail I wrote: The paper had chosen to accept a full sized advertisement on the front page, and I had suggested that if the front page of a paper could be bought, what did that indicate for the rest of the paper...

Take care and have a good day!

So long,

mikeovswinton und sachsenhausen coffee bars said...

Stick to the Frankfurter Rundschau. Although it used to be better when you could wallpaper and entire house with one copy.