Pearl Thevanayagam, in the Sri Lanka Guardian, 30 May 2012 with title “Michael Roberts Inc. — academics living in cloud cuckoo land”
By the time readers go through the likes of Michael Roberts, Dayan Jayetillaka and other long-winded social and political scientists’ essays (what science has got to do with social studies remains a mystery) in the newspapers and websites the world would have moved on faster than a scud missile. Yet, these writers insist the readers should take their seminal works very seriously indeed. Quite literally they are inept at comprehending that the shelf-life of a newspaper is less than 24 hours and those of websites few hours if not minutes. Newspapers are now a luxury to the average person and they had better have their money’s worth and news which are easily digestible rather than reaching for Roget’s Thesaurus. Call me a cynic if you wish but where else but in the US would one find universities offering PhDs for those who have failed to attain a decent A/L qualification in their home countries to enable them to pursue university education. Just pay for a semester at any one of the mushrooming colleges in the US and they will find you a suitable subject to enable you to obtain a Masters or better still a PhD. And you might just get a scholarship or assistant-ship if you played your cards right. I am telling you crossing my heart and hoping to die that even McDonalds are offering degrees. Flipping burgers or selling hot dogs could be your gateway to a degree.
Now physical scientists are an entirely different breed altogether and their painstaking and laborious research does benefit mankind be it in medicine, chemistry, physics, mathematics, astronomy, biology and a host of other useful disciplines.
Roberts opined in a local website – popular for publishing lengthy discourses on any given topic and generally restricted to the owner and editor of the website, their near and dear academic colleagues and essentially those from the late Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam’s Hoover Institute and CIA funded ICES (International Center For Ethnic Studies) yet calling itself citizen journalism – that journalists are incapable of writing at length giving the readers reasoning and rationale for their stories.
Don’t get me wrong. There are world renowned academics like Noam Chomsky and you will not get any hi-faluting Latin and quoting ancient Greek philosophers, Gramsci or Sophocles from him nor for that matter does Prof. G.L. Peiris wear his many law degrees or his Oxbridge tenure and Rhodes Fellowship on his sleeve. Although the latter has fallen by the wayside when he entered politics and has to play down his intelligence on par with the average politician’s who has the brain of a single cell organism. They are effective reader-friendly academics and they certainly do not need props since they can stand on their own and their words are their own.
Little does Roberts realise that journalists go through reams of academic drivel to bring out the substance in summary so that they give the news and not theses. Leading editors in Sri Lanka have years of experience in reporting on a multitude of topics, professional training locally and abroad and are also qualified lawyers, economists, scientists and accountants. Experienced journalists can spot a charlatan miles away and they are also very astute at getting to the bottom of the truth. They also consume Hansard three times a day, five times a week not to mention scores of books to give good or bad reviews.
The proof readers (now extinct) and sub-editors have far more knowledge of how the readers want their money’s worth than these so called academics in ivory towers. I will bet my bottom dollar that Roberts has never set foot in the North and East but he soldiers on writing about the ethnic conflict just because he can and there are websites who are gullible enough to buy his convoluted and empty rhetoric.
So, what is going to be the future for honest journalism? A PhD in social or political ‘science’ who cannot complete a sentence under fifty words laced with paradigm and polity or a bona fide journalist who would make that extra effort to get to the bottom of a story.
The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 22 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
2 responses to “Michael Roberts held captive in a journalist’s gunsight”
People who live in glass houses should undress in the dark.
This is an extremely badly-written article full of muddled thinking. It is replete with the faults the writer claims to find in others. It seems that she is dwelling in the groves of academe while condemning academics. It is amazing that anyone could pay her to teach writing if she writes like this.
I’m not quite sure what the point of the article is. It would be spiked by any self-respecting editor of the old school. She should study Orwell on the craft of getting an idea across as simply as possible.
“would have moved on faster than a scud missile” lame simile tritely expressed.
“these writers insist the readers should take their seminal works very seriously indeed” – Although they express their views hoping they will be taken seriously, surely they cannot “insist” on anything. Whatever their faults, I do not think these writers would consider their articles seminal”. Does she know what seminal means or does she just like the sound of it?
“Quite literally they are inept at comprehending” what useful work is “Quite literally” doing in that sentence?
“Newspapers are now a luxury to the average person and they had better have their money’s worth and news which are easily digestible rather than reaching for Roget’s Thesaurus.” I think she is making the point that writing should be kept simple. I quite agree and wish she would follow that maxim. It would be more useful to reach for a dictionary than a Thesaurus in the circumstances she describes.
“where else but in the US would one find universities offering PhDs for those who have failed to attain a decent A/L qualification in their home countries to enable them to pursue university education.”
What has this got to do with her gripe against Michael Roberts? He was educated in Peradeniya and Oxford and taught in Australia. Has he got a PhD from the USA? She herself is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I don’t know where she was educated or whether she went beyond A/L but this seems to be a case of pots and kettles.
“Roberts opined in a local website – popular for publishing lengthy discourses on any given topic and generally restricted to the owner and editor of the website”. What website is that? If it is restricted to the owner and editor of the website how can it be at the same time “popular for publishing lengthy discourses on any topic”. If it is restricted to the editor and owner how is Michael Roberts “opining” on it? Who else but a Sri Lankan would use the archaic term “opined”. It sounds as though she might mean Groundviews. I have been published on Groundviews. I am not the editor or owner. Pearl Thevanayagam has been published on Groundviews. She is not the editor or owner. Sloppy thinking, sloppy writing.
“Experienced journalists can spot a charlatan miles away and they are also very astute at getting to the bottom of the truth.”” Leading editors in Sri Lanka have years of experience”. If this is so, why does Dayan Jayatilleke, whom she seems to be including in her gang of charlatans, get all of his articles published in all of the English-language papers?
“The proof readers (now extinct) and sub-editors have far more knowledge of how the readers want their money’s worth than these so called academics in ivory towers.” If they are extinct, what relevance do they have to this argument? The past tense “had” should be used instead of “have”. What does the rest of the paragraph have to do with this opening sentence?
George Orwell wrote that “intellectuals must speak intelligibly with the right words and in the right tone of voice if they hope to contribute to social progress. Some authors seem to be intent on hiding their meaning, as if they feel they can hoard power because of their ability to employ words that are obscure. They are not even writing for their own coterie but writing for themselves…As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”
Mrs Thevanayagam has herself constructed a rickety henhouse.
i am very proud of my late sister pearl THEVANAYAGAM.