Cippo-isms

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll possibly know that my mentor Tony Ciprian died recently.

Losing Cippo – and remembering all that he taught me – has brought on a very reflective period.

But in a professional sense, it’s been constructive. It’s made me look even harder at what I write and why I write it. I feel I’ve been subbing my scripts with more vigour, and with even less tolerance for ‘flimflam’ and sloppy writing.

Even this blog is a second draft.

It’s also prompted me to trawl through Cippo’s now-dormant twitter timeline… just to see if there were any more little nuggets there. Any more Cippoisms.

And the great man didn’t disappoint:

  • 9 July 2013: “The Andy Murray headlines have ignored the fact that a Briton – Virginia Wade – won a Wimbledon singles title in 1977”
  • 3 April 2013: “I wish my lawn had stunted growth”
  • 20 February 2013: “When will some journos learn? Cars don’t lose control – drivers do”
  • 8 December 2012: “Journos… stop writing crap about something or someone bringing closure to a situation. There is never closure… ask the victim”
  • 20 October 2012: “Please sports presenters and newsreaders – it’s triathlon… not triathalon”
  • 29 May 2012: “We are not alone. Lots of Aussies also say ‘somethink’ instead of ‘something'”

I can’t really argue with him on any of those points. They’re perfect examples of the kind of cliches, mistakes, and misguided phrases we should all be working to remove from our journalism.

Oh and there was one more, seemingly-random tweet of his which I found:

  • 9 April 2012: “Hey mate, you’re (sic) ego is now bigger than all outdoors”

You’ll note it doesn’t mention anyone in particular.

But a quick sift through my own timeline around the same time reveals a pointless and self-indulgent hashtag called #KamahlFacts.

With that in mind, I’m pretty sure I know who he was talking about!

Thanks Cippo. Love your work.

Cippo-isms

Lazy language: some questions

FullSizeRender

Think of this is an immediate followup to my last post, where I bemoaned the “ability” of journalists to draw from a well of boring and often-nonsensical ‘stock phrases’.

The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book about the English language called Many a True Word.  It’s written by Richard Anthony Baker, a man who spent 30 years as a journalist at the BBC.  His writing is brilliant and I really do recommend the book.  It’s one you can actually learn something from!

Under the subtitle LAZY LANGUAGE: SOME QUESTIONS Baker writes the following:

Why are readers so often avid?  Is a beautiful speaking voice not just a beautiful voice?  Has anyone heard of a dirty bill of health?  Does anyone aspire to be just a pianist, rather than a concert pianist?  Why is a hoax so frequently elaborate?  Why do we talk about free gifts?  Aren’t gifts always free?  What is rude about good health?  Shall we banish light entertainment until someone invents heavy entertainment?  Need an old age be ripe?  Are you allowed to be a recluse or must you always be something of a recluse?  Are campaigners always tireless?  Is it possible to be unaware without experiencing bliss?  May we talk about obscurity rather than virtual obscurity?  And will you allow me to be inadequate rather than woefully inadequate?

First of all, you can see where some of the inspiration for my last posting came from!

But Baker is so right.  Ripe old age… woefully inadequate… blissfully unaware… tireless campaigner… elaborate hoax… these are all phrases which we lean-on in our writing for no real reason.  Sure there’s nothing technically wrong or incorrect about them… that is, except for their overuse… and it’s that which turns them into those lazy stock phrases.

Richard Anthony Baker has another section in Many a True Word called SOME WORDS AND PHRASES THAT DAILY TELEGRAPH JOURNOS MUST NOT USE… but I’ll save that for another time!

Lazy language: some questions

Why did you write that? No, really…

One of the biggest issues I have with journalism and writing these days are what I call ‘stock phrases’

My friend Simon Torkington (‘tvscriptwriter’ on WordPress) has written about such things before, but I know he’d appreciate me banging on about it again.

Stock phrases are the things people write without even thinking.  Phrases, words, descriptions which have been used a thousand times before, and so people seem to think the thousand-and-first time won’t matter.

News flash: it DOES matter.

What am I talking about exactly?  Here is just a small, small sample…

  • Why is tension always ‘palpable’?
  • Have you noticed when it rains a lot how ‘roads turn into rivers’?
  • Your fellow countrymen?  Erm, that’d just be your countrymen.
  • Have you ever really heard a ‘gunshot ring out’? I’d say it did more than ring!
  • Wow that debate is really ‘raging’ isn’t it…
  • ‘But for the families, nothing will bring their loved ones back’… yep, that’s because they died in a massive hurricane/flood/plane crash.
  • People always seem to ‘flee their homes’ in times of trouble.  That MAY well be true, but they may have also calmly walked out of their house.

Do you see where I’m coming from?  These are the type of stock phrases we hear ad nauseum, particularly in television news. And why? Because writers simply default to them without thinking.

My advice, for what it’s worth?  Write like you talk.  Within reason of course, but broadly speaking just try to write like a normal person.

And if you DO actually use those sorts of phrases when you speak?… well, that’s beyond my brief I’m afraid!

Why did you write that? No, really…

In praise of Tony Ciprian: 1932-2015

IMG_1582

I only started writing this blog about a week ago. I didn’t think I’d have to use it quite so soon to mark the passing of a writing great.

But so I find myself writing about Tony Ciprian in the past tense. He was 82 and unwell, so we can’t exactly call it a shock. What is a shock though is the immense gap I now feel in my professional career as a result of his passing. Countless other New Zealand journalists who worked with him will feel the same.

Cippo, as we called him, was unashamedly old school. Gruff, no-nonsense, often a right royal pain-in-the-backside… but extraordinarily gifted in his ability to write – particularly for television – and to pass on that knowledge to young journalists.

Imagine me, an 18-year-old nobody walking into the TV3 newsroom in Auckland for my first day of work experience back in 1998. Armed with bullet-proof/misguided confidence in myself, I’d managed to convince the Director of News Mark Jennings he should give me a shot on his team, despite having zero experience or qualifications. For whatever reason he agreed. And so I walked in that day with dreams of learning from the greats. Perhaps I’d even get to make them coffee!

But Mark knew I liked sport, so he sent me out to Eden Park with a cameraman to get some match footage of a domestic cricket match. I came back to the office that afternoon, having duly shot-listed everything the cameraman had filmed, and thought my work was done.

But instead of sitting me down quietly in a corner to think about how lucky I was, Mark introduced me to Cippo. He told him I had the cricket footage and that we should put together a match report for the news that night.

What must Cippo have thought? I never asked him, but it was probably something like “Skinny little teenage runt, no experience, and here’s the boss telling me to do something news-worthy with him. Are you f**king kidding?!”

To be honest, that day is a bit of a blur. But with Cippo’s guidance I somehow put together a report that night. With a slightly shaky voice and a very strong Kiwi accent, I became “Kamahl Santamaria, 3 News” that day, and stayed as such for the next three years.

In those three years, Tony Ciprian gave me the kind of grounding I think every journalist should have. He taught me the basics… how to write succinct and snappy scripts… how to avoid cliches (which in sports reporting is an art in itself)… how to be accurate and efficient… basically, how to do my job properly.

He also taught me the kind of rules I find myself repeating to other journalists today:

“You pronounce it KILO-METRE, not kill-OMM-itter!”
“He won the final set to take out the match? Where did he take it out to… dinner?”
“If you ever start a report with ‘Meet so-and-so’ I will kick your arse Santamaria…”

It could be arduous at times. Cippo was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t stand for any nonsense. If you disappointed Cippo, you knew it. And believe me, you never wanted to disappoint the guy. Not necessarily because he’d tear you a new one if he was in the wrong mood, but because his approval really meant something. What he didn’t know about journalism wasn’t worth knowing… so just imagine if you managed to impress a man of that stature?

I’m 16 years into my career now, and increasingly I wish all young journalists had a Cippo to start them off on the right track. For years I’ve seen them coming into newsrooms without a clue, just like I did, but believing they’re ready for the big league. They need someone to tell them that while they’ve just gotten themselves a journalism degree and have landed a great job, they actually know nothing about how the real game works… and that they need to sit down, shut up, and learn from someone who’s been around the traps.

That’s what Cippo did with me and so many other New Zealand journalists. He moulded and guided and shaped us – sometimes without us even realising – and turned us into half-decent reporters. We all still use the basics which Cippo taught us. They hold us in good stead. They keep us honest. They remind us of how we should be doing our jobs.

At age 20 I was producing nightly sports bulletins for TV3 News. For someone of that age to be doing that job was rare, and it only came about because of what I learnt from Tony Ciprian.

At one stage, veteran TV3 reporter Bob McNeil started calling me Mini Cippo. It was a good joke and the nickname stuck (along with a few others) but in truth, it was an honour to be given such a ‘title’.

Go well, Cippo. I’m sorry we didn’t keep in touch more in your later years. If we had, I would have simply said ‘thank you’, you grumpy old bastard.

I would not be where I am today without you.

In praise of Tony Ciprian: 1932-2015