The Times, November 28, 2018


The ‘It/But’ (or in this case ‘It/Instead’) format is supposedly a way of making a routine story more interesting. There are a few ( a very few) occasions when it works but on the whole, as here, it is tired and tiresome.

This is a better attempt:

 i newspaper, November 28, 2018

It is a straighter intro but it could be improved. For a start I would never begin a story with ‘A government drive . . . ‘ unless I wanted to send readers to sleep. I am not enamoured of ‘kids’.

This would be my suggestion:

A £40million drive to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables has managed to put them off healthy eating, according to a charity.







i newspaper, November 28, 2018

Lloyd George ceased to be prime minister in 1922. The Second World War broke out in 1939. And if you saw this, would you not think: ‘Hmm, can that be right? Would a wartime prime minister have time to chase Land Girls?’ I have gone on and on about checking things, but if you are not 100 per cent certain that something you are handling is right, look it up. In this case the sub cannot have been certain, because it was not right.


The Times, November 27, 2018

I am guessing this rather clumsy heading is built on a vague memory of the ‘six-word story’ attributed to Ernest Hemingway: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. The thing about using a well-known phrase, saying or title, is that you should stick as closely as possible to the original. Thus this should have been

For sale: playboy’s silk pyjamas, hardly worn

Isn’t that an improvement?


Finally, I’ve found what caused my brain fog, chronic fatigue, depression and aching joints…an insect bite!

  • Writer, journalist and columnist James Dellingpole, 53, suffered for many years 
  • The cause is a Lyme Disease – which is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat  
  • Here, he reveals his on-going battle to beat the devastating tick-borne condition 

Mail Online, November 20, 2018

One traditional courtesy extended to writers is to spell their names correctly. James Delingpole is (or should be) very well known, and I assume he spelled his name right on his copy.

Secondly, a tick is not an insect. There is a picture with the article showing that it has eight legs, not six, which should be a clue. Presumably such basic nature study knowledge is beneath the titans of Mail Online. For their information, a tick is an arachnid, related to spiders.



Sunday Times, November 18, 2018

Surely booing is by definition hostile? Can you imagine ‘appreciative booing’? It is also quite hard to imagine ‘booing from a quiet crowd’. You might get away with ‘Despite booing from a hostile crowd’ but I think that is borderline tautology. Better to say ‘Despite booing from the spectators’ (spectators being the specific word for a crowd watching sport) and maybe work in the adjective ‘hostile’ further down.

These are tiny details yet they are well worth your attention. Every word should be considered to see if it has earned its place.


The Times, November 7, 2018

So what level of violence would have been acceptable? Mild? Moderate? If the police say idiotic things, you are not compelled to use them. It might have been more useful in the quest for information to use the space to say the attack happened in Bounds Green rather than ‘north London’.


Sunday Times, November 4, 2018

Two examples of complete lack of interest in the words. How can you have a piece about expensive and good-value champagnes without quoting prices? It is meaningless.

As for Federer and his twins – how can you say that one pair are identical and not specify whether the others are or not? (They aren’t – all you need to do is look at a picture.) One of the arts of subbing is not leaving the reader asking questions.


Sunday Times, November 4, 2018

If you get a ‘delayed drop’ story, where the reader is meant to wonder what is happening until the joke is revealed, don’t ruin it by giving it away in the headline.

An alternative for this might be

Who’s terrifying
Oxford’s finest?




Daily Express, November 3, 2018

Leaving aside the mysterious process by which a story about an actress eating an onion was judged important enough to feature in a national newspaper, here is an example of ‘inelegant variation’, the expression coined by Keith Waterhouse for a contorted effort to avoid repetition. For a selection to which this has now been added, see ‘The Compleat Sub-editor’ in Style Matters http://stylematters.margaretashworth.com/the-compleat-sub-editor/


The Times, November 3, 2018

Two cliches for the price of one, and neither worth using. This is a good example of a useless intro that can simply be lopped off to make a much better story. All you need to do is insert ‘in fees’ after ‘cut’ and change ‘voters’ to ‘parents’ to give you:

The cut in fees apparently mooted by the Augar review might appeal to parents. But it could be catastrophic  . . .