The Times, March 6, 2019, p5

I hate the practice of adding ‘up’ to words that don’t need it, and ‘free up’ is one of the worst examples. Another is ‘park up’. What does ‘up’ add or alter?


i newspaper, February 25, 2019 (17 words)

Whenever you find yourself thinking of writing the word ‘people’, stop and think again. If the story is about human beings, it is about people and the word is just stating the obvious. There are many alternatives, and in this case there is a  word for people fishing: it is ‘anglers’.

Boscombe is part of Bournemouth. What exactly is ‘southerly air’?

There is a mix of tenses: ‘fish’ (present) and ‘brought’ (past).

A better version of this would be:

Anglers at Boscombe Pier in Bournemouth enjoy the mild temperatures brought by southerly winds from the Canary Islands (18 words)

Adding the word ‘enjoy’ makes the caption a little more than a description of what we can all see. The word ‘brought’ in this case is present passive.


i newspaper, February 16, 2019 (56 words)

Where to start?

1. Do you think ‘Airport authorities in Hong Kong’ is going to make the reader keen to find out more?

2. If the men have been arrested but not convicted you should say they are alleged smugglers (as it does lower down). It is no excuse to say it is in Hong Kong so it doesn’t matter.

3. ‘Suspected’ is a word you would use for a possible criminal, not a rhino horn. The horns are not suspected of anything. You need to say ‘horns believed to be from rhinos’ or just say ‘rhino horns’ – I think you can take a gamble on the horns being pretty distinctive. I certainly can’t think of anything similar that might lead to confusion.

4. Is the weight really important? Can you imagine what 40 kg (88lb) of rhino horn looks like? Is the fact that there were 24 not enough?

5. Is it necessary to say the horns were ‘severed’? Might we otherwise assume the rhinos were still attached?

6. If it is a record haul as stated in the first sentence, it goes without saying that it was the largest seizure.

7. ‘What was’ is just about the ugliest construction in creation and here it is unnecessary.

8. Which is the better headline phrase: ’24 rhino horns’ or ‘$1m rhino horns’?

Looking up the story to find a few more facts I see that the BBC did it almost word for word the same way. So just lifted straight from agency copy.

This is how I would have done it:

$1m rhino horns
seized at airport

Twenty-four rhino horns worth $1million (£780,000) have been seized at Hong Kong airport. Two men travelling from South Africa to Vietnam were arrested on suspicion of smuggling the horns, the largest haul recorded in Hong Kong. Rhino horn is used in Vietnam in traditional medicine and more than 1,000 rhinos a year are killed in South Africa. (57 words)




The Times, February 8, 2019

I have mentioned before that ‘after’ does not mean the same as ‘when’, quoting this genuine example: ‘A woman whose face was almost torn off after she had a riding accident . . .’ This suggests that she fell off her horse, then someone came along and attacked her. The piece above goes further and suggests that the poor girl was knocked off her bicycle and then broke her own bones. She did not do it, it was done to her. Not active but passive. It is so simple if you have a little bit of brain and can speak English: ‘Her jaw and both arms were broken when she was knocked off her bicycle by a van’.



i newspaper, January 2, 2019

(47 words) It is obvious that the sub had not the slightest idea what this was about, and admittedly it is not the most common knowledge – but if you don’t understand what you are subbing, find out. The bit of information that is missing is that the sex of hatchling turtles is determined by the incubation temperature – higher temperatures result in females, lower in males. This is a challenge to convey in a short like this (and I would say it is the wrong choice of story for a short) but it can be done.

Here is my attempt:

Climate change could result in 93 per cent of green turtles being female by 2100, say Exeter University researchers. The sex of hatchlings is determined by temperature, with higher values giving more females. This would result in more eggs, raising the population in the short term, but too high temperatures would kill all embryos.   (54 words)





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?