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July 12, 2005

How To Write For Time.

We’re extremely lucky today to be able to offer a lesson in how to write for Time Magazine. Our method is simple. We shall look at one specific article which is currently online and then we’ll look at the sources for some of the statements made. We will therefore be able to compare and contrast the two, the article and the sources, and see how much of the information in the original made it through into the published piece. In this manner we hope to be able to show you the necessity of the multiple layers of editors and fact checkers that are used in these large media organizations.

Our hope is that by making a careful study of how this system works you will be able to understand why the superstructure is so necessary. It simply will not work if every blogger and self-described "pundit", insta- or inde- or nota- mouths off in whatever manner they wish. No, it is vital that there is a sifting process, a team of trained professionals who can and do check sources, make sure they are correctly described and verify the facts that are proffered.

As our example we are going to take this article from Andrew Sullivan. There are a number of reasons for this. He is both a blogger and a journalist. He has been (a very successful) editor, he is writing on a subject he knows well, Britain, and, all in all, it is also a rather nice piece of writing.

Remember, we are concentrating solely on the importance of the editorial process, not casting aspertions on any specific individuals. We want to see, to make plain and clear, the reasons why  the glorious system of the major media will never be taken over or surpassed by those grotty little oiks with their PCs and so called  "expert knowledge".

Item 1)

"Work's over, but there's little chance of getting home right now," one Brit e-mailed me. "Most of us are just going to go to the pub until the traffic has died down. It's not callousness or indifference to carry on as normal; it's quiet defiance."

As far as we can see from Mr Sullivan’s blog this could be true. He does not expressly state that this reaction was emailed to him but then he also does not link to some other site where it first appeared as is normal etiquette. Very well, fact checked and accepted.

Item 2)

Another e-mailer conveyed the atmosphere: "The pubs are all packed out, people sipping their pints happily. Nice one, al-Qaeda--you profess to be from a teetotal religion, and you've given the pub trade a massive midweek boost."

From Mr. Sullivan’s blog we seem to have a slight problem with this. The comment was originally attributed to Nosemonkey. Now we have no doubt that Mr. Monkey is indeed an emailer, it is rather one of those things that goes along with being a blogger, and it is certainly possible that the comment was emailed to Mr. Sullivan. We do rather think though that the phrase "another e-mailer" slightly distorts the background here. It isn’t as if Mr. Monkey emailed this specific comment for Mr. Sullivan to broadcast it to a breathlessly waiting world.

Further, the comment was originally posted in London at 14.05 their time, and commented upon at 12.48 east coast time. We think that would have to be counted as at least a mild case of misattribution.

One minor point that we might make clear for puzzled American readers. Mr. Sullivan is talking about beer here:

Have one for me, will you? Nice and warm.

21 years out of the country is obviously sufficient time to have forgotten the basics. The Brits do not drink warm beer, they drink it at cellar temperature, 55 oF. Unless you are in the average British bedroom (an unlikely place to be drinking draught beer) this is significantly cooler than the ambient temperature.

Item 3)

One Brit blogger cited another pub scene where in the middle of the day, two young men were sitting beneath a TV screen with images of carnage, quietly reading about the latest soccer scandal in one of the raunchier tabloids.

We can see that this correctly attributed to a blog as Mr Sullivan has it, linking to the Neveratoss blog:

Went to the pub at lunchtime to see the latest new on events in London. Three young guys were sitting directly in front of the TV as details of a major terrorist attack on London were emerging – all three avidly reading the Sun's account of the Steven Gerard/Liverpool fiasco.

As you can see there appears to be a slight difference, in fact one of 33% (or 50%, depending on which way you wish to count) in the size of this group of proudly determined Britons. As Mr. Sullivan has it as three at his blog, well, then it’s just two bloggers making a statement against the massed fact checkers of Time Inc, is it not? Obviously two must be the correct figure.

We hope you find this exposition of the difference between those major publications such as Time and the citizen journalists known as bloggers to be useful. Blogs will never be able to replace the larger organizations as they simply do not have the resources, are not able to employ the teams of editors and fact checkers necessary to ensure that information and quotations are correctly attributed, are not, in fact, able to determine the correct number of young men in a pub in London.

This is a Public Information Notice from the Investor Relations Department of Time Warner Inc.

July 12, 2005 in Media | Permalink


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"Unless you are in the average British beedroom (an unlikely place to be drinking draught beer) this is significantly cooler than the ambient temperature."

Love it !!!

Posted by: Gorse Fox | Jul 12, 2005 3:37:09 PM

You can get "draught" in a can now :p

Posted by: Monjo | Jul 12, 2005 4:21:50 PM

"You can get "draught" in a can now :p"

monjo: Not in any pub I would ever visit.

Posted by: JamesB | Jul 12, 2005 4:46:14 PM

"The Brits do not drink warm beer, they drink it at cellar temperature, 55 oF."

Actually, Sully wasn't that far off. Beer is *meant* to be served at that temperature, but it's not at all rare for British pubs to serve it at room temperature, or above. Click on my name for an article on the subject.

Posted by: jic | Jul 12, 2005 4:47:48 PM

55 degrees IS warm for beer. Seriously, beer should be consumed at as near to freezing as possible. Okay, yes, I am an American, but we threw off the crown that we might drink our beer cold, dammit!

Posted by: Timothy | Jul 12, 2005 5:48:24 PM

Only a Brit would think 55 degrees isn't warm. :)

Gotta love those Brits.

They chill the beer personally with their Bond-ian cool.

Posted by: GrenfellHunt | Jul 12, 2005 6:11:58 PM

Beer(not chilled) != Lager(chilled).

Learn and remember.

Posted by: Rob Read | Jul 12, 2005 6:16:14 PM

Will you guys shuddup already? All this talk of Brit beer is making me thirsty.

Right now, I would KILL for a pint of Wadsworth 6X, at almost any temperature.

Preferably at Wiltshire's ambient cellar temperature, come to think of it.

Posted by: Kim du Toit | Jul 12, 2005 7:17:49 PM

"Gut Wein und Bier, das ist unser Plaiser"-- shaken, not stirred (oops, over to you, James).

Were Time, Inc. and its gaggle of journalistic emulsifiers even worth topping off, we might take a sip of their flat, stale brew. For these sanctimonious dolts to proclaim Braumeister status at the expense of bloggers' micro-brewed expertise is indicative of a mindset that couldn't play darts with a flat-iron.

Posted by: John Blake | Jul 12, 2005 8:43:53 PM

You shouldn't have such funny stuff on my desktop when I'm sipping coffee.


Posted by: Arnold Williams | Jul 13, 2005 2:57:57 AM

Why would JamesB buy canned beer in a pub? *Scratches head*

Posted by: Monjo | Jul 13, 2005 4:29:10 PM

"55 degrees IS warm for beer. Seriously, beer should be consumed at as near to freezing as possible. Okay, yes, I am an American, but we threw off the crown that we might drink our beer cold, dammit!"

Actually, any American beer connaisseur knows that drinking ice-cold beer destroys much of the flavor. Micro-bew drinkers know this; drinks of Miller and Bud do not drink a beer with any flavor to destroy. But any American book or article on beer will say the same thing.

Posted by: Gary Farber | Jul 22, 2005 7:39:15 PM