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?


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.