Times, May 27, 2020

Many papers do not seem to have noticed that we are in an era of 24-hour news. In the morning, when there are up-to-the-minute reports available online and on TV, the phrase ‘last night’ sounds like ‘old news’. In any case, if Johnson was struggling with this situation last night, he will still be struggling with it today. Much better to say:

‘Boris Johnson is struggling to contain . . .’




Times, May 25, 2020

This is a common error, but that does not mean we should be happy to get it wrong. To infer is to deduce from the evidence, as in ‘he inferred from the state of the body that the victim had been dead for weeks’. The word needed here is ‘implied’, meaning to hint or suggest.


i newspaper, May 23, 2020

It’s local paper day in the i. I suppose all subbing rules have gone out of the window now that everyone knows best, but there is usually a good reason for them. In this case, you don’t put the name of the town in the heading because those who are not interested in Norwich, Edinburgh or Chipping Sodbury (which is most readers) will consciously or subconsciously think: ‘That is of no relevance to me’  and move on, saying: ‘This is a really boring paper, nothing in it I want to read.’ If the subs at the i have discarded this rule, I wish them luck.

Let’s look at the lemur story in more detail.

(72 words). It is not the young lemur which is endangered (though it may be if they don’t look after it properly) but the species. I would not say something the size of a tennis ball was tiny (you can leave that to the reader to judge) and why ‘but its birth is crucial’? ‘But’ means something surprising, so are we suggesting that if it were the size of a football its birth would be less crucial? We have said that it is critically endangered, so it is obviously ‘rare’. Frankly, what a team leader has to say is not as interesting as getting in a few more facts.

This is how I would do it, having spent five minutes or less on Google:

Zoo lifeline for
threatened lemurs

A critically endangered species has been given a boost with the birth of a Lake Alaotra gentle lemur at the Wild Place Project in Gloucestershire, part of Bristol Zoo.

The primate is close to extinction in its native Madagascar because of  hunting, destruction of the reed beds on which it feeds and illegal capture for the pet trade – Gerald Durrell described it as a honey-coloured teddy bear – with only 2,500 remaining. (72 words)

By the way, if you want to see how much work the i put into this story, see this press release.




Times, May 22, 2020

When quoting someone you must obviously try to be accurate, but there is such a thing as being ridiculously obsessive. Here we have an unidentified woman who presumably said ‘. . . my son told me he thought the books might be valuable.’ Perhaps to avoid repeating ‘books’ in the quote, the reporter or sub has changed ‘the books’ to [they]. Let us imagine what might have happened if square brackets had not been inserted to show that it was a paraphrase.

Unidentified woman – an apology

On May 22 we reported that a woman who sold a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at auction for £36,300 said: ‘. . . my son told me he thought they might be valuable.’ We are now informed that the woman said: ‘. . . my son told me he thought the books might be valuable.’ We apologise for the error, which was introduced in editing, and for any embarrassment caused.

This kind of thing comes up repeatedly. Use your judgment and if you are keeping the sense of what was said, that’s fine. To be honest I can’t see the point of paraphrasing the quote – that is how people talk, with repetitions.  We should not expect them to be orators.


The Times, May 8, 2020

Here is a good example of someone putting zero thought into a cross-reference and being content with rubbish. A swap means an exchange and it is obviously nonsensical to suggest that shoes could be exchanged for compost. A better word would have been ‘wellies’, perhaps, or ‘gardening clogs’ – something which is the opposite of high heels.