Friday, September 11, 2009

Form over substance

Magazine revamps should not put form before substance.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) monthly magazine, PIONEER, fell short in its September 2009 issue with a couple of glaring lapses. The errors contained in the September issue, which was the second edition to carry the revamped format, were oversights that no spell check engine could catch.

In its feature on the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Super Puma fleet, the magazine mentioned that the Super Pumas took over the "flying of the state flag during National Day Parade from the Alouette III helicopters".

It added:"In recent years, the Ch-47 Chinooks have been performing this duty."

Apart from a grammatical lapse, which was the missing "the" before National Day Parade, one wonders why 120 Squadron's UH-1Hs were forgotten for their NDP flag carrying duties. Have the flag carrying contributions of scores of UH-1H pilots, aircrewmen and ground crew been forgotten so quickly?

There's also a stylistic lapse: CH-47 should be written with the "CH" in superscript rather than "Ch".

These are errors that no spell check engine will catch.

One would hope that the Third Generation SAF would polish its historical records so new cohorts of staff officers performing mundane tasks like vetting magazine drafts would have sufficiently strong institutional memory to pick up errors of fact like those mentioned above.

Despite the disclaimer in the magazine, readers regard PIONEER as the voice of the SAF.

PIONEER should make the goal of providing accurate, relevant and timely information a primary focus. Everything else - the engaging headlines, insightful articles, well-composed images and text - must support the magazine's role as a reliable information resource and publication of record for SAF related news.

Granted, the nit-picking should not detract from the fact that PIONEER's makeover has kept the magazine in step with what the MTV generation demands.

But without attention to detail, defence observers might wonder what sort of archives the SAF keeps. If not nipped in the bud, sloppy editing would snowball over time, as people regard PIONEER as a magazine of record and take the information presented on its pages as statements of fact. Errors could also be repeated in term papers, essays or academic exercises.

Details matter.

It's akin to someone reading a wonderfully written expose on the RSAF, marvelling at the author's depth of research and familiarity with the Singapore air force's order of battle - only to come across that one line that calls the RSAF the Royal Singapore Air Force. That glitch - one word among the hundreds penned - instantly knocks down the credibility of the article by several notches.

One would hope that the Alouette III glitch was an, ahem, honest mistake that isn't reflective of the state of the 3rd Gen SAF's historical awareness or attention to detail.

Because there's an old saying that you won't know where you're going, unless you know where you came from.

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