Think Literacy Levels Are Fine? Read This
Ah, England, home of Shakespeare! Also, a land where people apparently can’t string two words together, a country with a literacy rate that places us 44th in the world order, rather a long way behind, say, Latvia and Moldova, not quite as low as Tunisia or Papua New Guinea. The source for literacy rates is here although be warned, there are a lot of different ways to measure these and many Russian news items about literacy are fake. It didn’t shock me, though, as I had just been attempting to read The Independent online, in which every article is peppered with elementary spelling mistakes.
The Independent, let’s remember, was billed as a world class literate newspaper before its destruction at the hands of its new Russian owner, who wanted to play at being a press baron for a while. When I worked for them we had to answer our own readers’ queries personally and fact-check every sentence. Those days are long gone. Now not only is the spelling atrocious, the grammar and comprehension is so poor that whole paragraphs make no sense at all.
Oh, sorry, I should explain – ‘comprehension’ was a test kids once did at school in which we had to precis what we’d read to see if we’d understood it. Perhaps it is still taught, although clearly not to the Indie staff. Try this chunk of unedited gibberish from the paper’s article on Jacob Rees-Mogg; ‘when they were discussing their free trade deal with the US and they found nobody had ever had any adverse consequences from chlorinated chicken which basically just kills germs, other than the inspectors who went round seeing how the chlorine was put in on the chickens and they breathed in a bit too much and felt a bit queasy.’
Perhaps the paper’s writers were busy gluing pasta shapes onto tinsel while everyone else did their ABCs. If I sound annoyed, blame it on the fact that I’ve devoted my life to a career that now ranks literacy somewhere beside wicker repair as a dead skill.
Without typographers or actual writers there are just unedited news sources and web designers. If you would care to make a comparison, try setting any UK newspaper other than the Telegraph or the Guardian beside El Pais, Le Figaro or just about any German national paper. I can read the English editions of other far more balanced, intelligent and – one shouldn’t even have to type this – literate – papers from around the world, but I shouldn’t have to.
To the right and left we have the Spectator and the New Statesman, but what we really lack now is in-depth reportage. The New York Times is almost overwhelming in its dedication to detailed, lengthy articles. El Pais frequently runs complex, long pieces about culture and politics. Meanwhile the UK Times is asking ‘Should you wipe down your yoga mat?’
If I could do one thing, I’d buy the defunct Punch magazine and breathe life into it again, making it more like the Modern Review, with intelligent, informed writing. That would doom my investment overnight.
*grumpy writer goes to make tea, scowling and muttering under breath*