Theo Coggin

A blog on communications

Archive for the tag “south africa”

Delicious typos and predictive text… Both can be mouthwatering

oie_transparent (13)I am sure typos and predictive text have caused us all a mixture of irritation and embarrassment from time to time. But they can also bring with them mirth and a welcome chuckle.

Whether this case in point which has so amused me today was in fact a typo – or just predictive text – I don’t know. But it was delightful.

Blissfully devoid of television during a sojourn in the mountains, I resorted to online cricket commentary from The Guardian’s Tim de Lisle. My immediate concern was the state of play in the cricket test match at the Oval in London between South Africa and England, and so I missed Tim’s commentary on the third over, watching as I was only for the score. That, in itself, is a lesson in how often we blissfully read over mistakes. But the sharp eye of an unseen follower, somewhere else in the world, Bob O’Hara, picked it up and sent a tweet which said: “Please don’t correct your typo in over 3. The image it gives of international diplomacy is one to savour. @Cricket_Germany”.

That piqued my interest, big time! So I scrolled to the third over to read Tim’s description about Morkel, the South African bowler. It read: “Cook goes forward to cover-drive Morkel for four, then back to tuck him for four more. Textbook stuff. Merkel retorts with a shorter ball, in at the groin; if it hurts, Cook isn’t going to show it…”

Merkel? She of Germany and European Union fame? As Mr O’Hara suggests, the image – and as I would suggest, consequence! – of international diplomacy gets the imagination going. In some cases in which politicians are over-sensitive, such a matter might evoke many varied results.

But a more delicious and captivating typo is hard to imagine.

oie_transparent (14)The lesson for us as communicators: always proofread before publishing!

  • I can’t end this blog without paying tribute to the brilliant way in which Tim de Lisle provides his commentary. It reminds me of the South African radio cricket commentator, the late Charles Fortune, who had a brilliant command of English and a canny ability to take one, unsighted, on to the field of play.
  • Tim’s typo has already led to some witty comments via Twitter, for example, this one from Brian Withington. “Liking the emerging theme of international cricket diplomacy started with your 6th-over reference to the German Chancellor’s mean bowling. One or two others spring to mind – captain May guilty of an overly optimistic early declaration; and that living advert for a political DRS, one Donald Trump (mystery spinner and flat-track bully).”

Oh to be fashionable!

fourth estate

Time was, when a well-written media release would reach a journalist or radio producer who would then research it (does anyone do this anymore?), recognise the news-worthiness and then do a decent story or report.

Now before all those good journalists, radio and TV producers out there start jumping up and down (as is sometimes their wont) about the puffery dished up by so many public relations companies, let me emphasise that I am talking about well-written, newsworthy statements that are in the public interest.

Many of the current crop of media persons regrettably, in my considerable experience, have a limited general knowledge and therefore are usually unable to apply their minds to news that is outside their immediate frame of reference.

Others fall prey to the temptation to cover only news that is “fashionable” and struggle to see how they can create breaking news out of a media statement (before anyone jumps up and down again, refer to my previous note about jumping up and down).

By fashionable I mean an issue, an organisation, an event about which the journalist or radio personality has a particular bias. In religion, for example, events about the more charismatic churches are far more likely to get coverage than those from the mainstream religious media.

One has to wonder whether this has to do with many media personalities being linked to the charismatic movement?

There is nothing wrong with that per se. What is wrong is to allow one’s familiarity with a particular issue to then exclude one from covering any other news.

Or let’s touch base with something that will increasingly create sweat under the collars of politicians and journalists alike in the run up to the May general election in South Africa – Politics.

The likelihood of smaller political parties getting the same type of exposure to the major ones is zero to nil. Again I speak from experience.

Irrespective of how good a story (unless it is incredibly negative to the political party concerned) a minor political party may put out there the chances of it getting good coverage in the mainstream media are minimal.

South African media had a wonderful legacy in 1994. The post-94 media could look to newspapers in particular that were fearless in their exposure of the brutal policies of the apartheid government. Nowadays, very few of our media – and certainly not the South African Broadcasting Corporation – dare to take issue with the ruling political party. The Mail & Guardian is one exception that comes to mind.

So there! I have raised the two unmentionables: religion and politics, in the context of the fourth estate.

Has South African print, broadcast and online journalism already retreated too far to regain the reputation that at least part of it enjoyed prior to 1994?

Let me conclude with the latest media saga on Nelson Mandela.

knittingA group of people are knitting 67 plus blankets at the initiative of Mandela’s former Personal Assistant Zelda le Grange, as part of the Mandela legacy. Suddenly the media is jumping on the knitting band wagon and giving this knitting initiative sensational coverage. Prior to this knitting, as far as the media was concerned was for “little old ladies” and only worthy of file 13 (in other words the rubbish bin) attempts to get coverage for equally worthy knitting projects clothing babies of mothers living below the poverty datum line in KwaZulu Natal fell entirely on deaf ears. Shame on the media!

Image for the fourth estate taken from
Knitting image taken from

Eish! English is wonderful!

One of my colleagues is updating her skills by doing a course at University on teaching English as a second language. She says that one of the most interesting parts has been the construction of words.

English has a wonderful array of words. Being a dynamic language, it is able to assimilate new words with consummate ease.

Coat_of_arms_of_South_Africa.svgI often think that we in South Africa are luckier than most. South Africa boasts eleven official languages, and that is before one counts the unofficial languages such as those spoken by the ǀXam  people (none of their languages is official even though the country’s Coat of Arms bears its motto in a Khoisan language, viz ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke which translates literally to “Diverse people unite”).

It also does not take into account a language such as Fanagalo, a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input. The language is spoken by miners whose home tongue is varied in order to ensure that they have a common understanding when they communicate deep underground. It is spoken mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in the country and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the CongoNamibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The importance of English embracing changing trends has always held an element of excitement for me. Colleagues and friends who possibly have a more purist bent towards English may not necessarily agree.

But the phenomenon of English adopting new words, and seeing them used in their epicentre of English usage – I have in mind universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, let alone the palaces of the United Kingdom – has been around as far as South Africa is concerned for donkey’s years. Thus the word veld(sometimes spelt veldt), meaning the open planes of the vast South African landscape, has long been in use, as has another Dutch word, trek.

Both these words have wonderful descriptive qualities about them.

Unsurprisingly therefore, latter day words such eish, an expression that can probably be best translated as wow! is now in common usage. braaiAs is a word such as braai, meaning barbeque. These have international flavours  (pun intended!).

More localised are words such as eikona, meaning No! Then there is a derivation of a word widely used such as broeks (meaning pants of various assortments) when used in the context of “look at that house with the lovely broekielace on its stoep” (stoep being another import and used in the USA spelt stoop). In this case the word broekielace means the steel lattice work which serves as a beautiful architectural decoration in many South African homes.

English is a rich language and communicators should explore its use to the utmost.

Please let me know of any words that you come across often from any language. We would all be interested.

Reference: some of the information has been sourced from Wikipedia.

Dare to dream

The Feast of St Francis of Assisi, which fittingly coincides with World Animal Day, may seem strange subjects to consider from a communications point of view.

This is not least the case because St Francis is a person to whom both I and many fellow communicators may not have paid much attention in our professional lives.

Yet in the past few years, I have also realised what an outstanding communicator he was and, indeed still is. Like many great minds of the past, not only his message but his means of communication live on.

Let me leave his message aside for the moment, for this is a blog about communication. But let me deal with his medium, which was that of the unusual and creativity.

Before I proceed, however, I must pay tribute to the manner in which I have discovered him – which is to have become a member of a St Francis parish in which its priest, Tim Gray, has the courage to use creative means to communicate to his congregants – not all of whom, I suspect, always appreciate it. It is unusual, but refreshing, for example, to hear him wondering “who will pray for the rocks?”.

But it is just this type of unusual communication that St Francis employed, and, whatever your religious leaning might be, I urge you to explore the bloody-minded nature – some would say maverick – of his communication. Google him and you will find plenty. It no doubt had his superiors of the day, and maybe some even of this day, frothing at the mouth with indignation.

The important lesson is that we must not be scared to explore our creativity. It is a gift we as communicators must embrace. I have previously written a blog on our need to let the child in us “bubble out”. St Francis, however, was not a child, but very much an adult. He was not scared to look at the world in all its fullness and all its greatness – something perhaps we miss – and to use that as we speak to our audiences.

The lesson we need to learn from a St Francis is to get out into the natural world with all its beauty. Its flora and fauna have no equal and we have no other. We are blessed in South Africa to enjoy a beautiful natural environment – even in the heart of a metropolis like Johannesburg which is bursting with new life this spring time. We are told that from space, Joburg, in the middle of savannah land, looks like a forest, so many are the trees that have been planted there! It is also the one city of its size in the world, I believe, not situated on the sea or a major river, sited as it was on the top of the gold fields.

But yesterday, in the middle of manmade Bruma Lake (and let it be said, not the most salubrious of lakes) was a magnificent Grey Heron, majestically surveying the manmade delicacies that awaited him in the lake! Such is the cycle of creation.

But beyond our city lies magnificent Africa. The sheer stillness of the dark African night, punctuated, if you are in the right place at the right time, by the roar of the lion, the scream of the hyena, the bark of the baboon. Go to another part and you will find one of the greatest diversities of fauna in the world on the West Coast of this land.

It is in such places that authors like Laurens van der Post found his inspiration for his most creative works; it is in the verdant valleys of KwaZulu/Natal that Alan Paton found the foundation for that seminal work, Cry the Beloved Country.

In our work at Quo Vadis Communications, we try and teach delegates on our courses to let creation speak through them. After all, we are creation itself. When we sing, it’s not just the words that communicate but our voice as well, whether it’s in the shower or anywhere else. So too with writers. When we write, let the words speak from your innermost being, inspired by what is around you. You will be surprised how creative you can be.

Good news is critical for a balanced world

I am one of those who has often felt the hairs on my back rising when people have criticised the media for reporting only bad news. This has been the case because, from my own years in journalism and in a lifetime in the communications industry, I know that this is simply not true of all journalists. Many actively seek out good news.

But the perception, which we all know is reality, is that bad news supersedes the good more often than not. It is usually always more obvious, and therefore easier to come by, and report. Turning good news into a product that is saleable (and the media is all about sales) is a lot more difficult.

Having said all that, I have to say that when there is good news, the media – while sometimes reporting it initially – is often a little reticent in doing the follow-up stories that it would enthusiastically trot out on issues such as gory train accidents, devastating earthquakes, and the odd piece of graft or two in South Africa. Let me hasten to add that I have no problem whatsoever with fair reportage of such events.

My problem, however, to which I have already alluded, is that balanced reporting often suffers because good news is not actively sought and, when found or presented, not enthusiastically followed up and reported on until the news is fully spent.

A recent case in point is the wonderful news that, after nine years of work by the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) teams in South Africa and Australia, 70% of the facility was awarded to Africa, with most of this going to ImageSouth Africa. Amidst this astoundingly good news for us in Africa was a suggestion by some that it was actually bad news that the entire project was not coming to the continent. (See how easy it is to create the negative out of an outstanding piece of news?)

It was like a breath of fresh air, therefore, to listen to Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Science and Technology, wax eloquent about the achievement in being awarded the lion’s share of this project – a recognition, she said, that was “substantive evidence of the great strides made by the local radio astronomy community since South Africa signaled its interest in the SKA”. Her enthusiasm was infectious and, as an aside, was in marked contrast to the dour manner in which some other South African cabinet ministers often pronounce on even good news.

The reporting on the SKA was substantial and serious. But as I write this, I have to say that I have seen scant evidence of enthusiastic follow-up stories about the consequences of being awarded such a huge project. Neither have I seen anyone delving into the human interest stories that should flow naturally when one considers the implications of SKA for Africa, the kind of human interest that we at Quo Vadis seek to teach participants in our communications training courses to recognise and be able to write about engagingly.

Hard on the heels of this announcement came the celebration of the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It was fascinating to watch the coverage on television and the manner in which human interest stories were dug out to keep one’s attention and illustrate that good news is indeed pervasive – even in the face of her husband, Prince Phillip, being taken to hospital in the midst of the celebrations, and the rather grim, typically sodden English weather amidst which millions celebrated.

So why is it so difficult for us to present good news? Is it because good news is sometimes seen as “soppy”, gives us a lump in our throat, or is considered to be too soft? Is it because, for reasons I cannot fathom, the ugliness of our society appeals more to our base instincts than the beauty and splendor of the creation of which we are privileged to be part? People will have their own answers, but the communicator has a distinct and awesome responsibility in a world in which bad news has currency and good news less so.

That responsibility is to recognise beauty and the gift of life and to report it. It is to report fairly and in a balanced way, and recognise that such reporting must inevitably contribute to the positive attitudes in people – and thus to the wellbeing of the global village we all share.

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