The Times, December 19, 2020

Fictional means that it appears in a work of fiction, eg ‘the fictional Sherlock Holmes’.  The word wanted here is ‘fictitious’ which means made up, eg ‘he gave the ticket inspector a fictitious address’.


Times, November 27, 2020

Times, November 27, 2020

What an embarrassment, as usual attributed to an ‘editing error’. Unless newspaper production has changed out of recognition in the six or seven years since I was employed, the heading would have been written by a sub-editor, revised (therefore accepted) by a senior sub, approved by a sub who supervises the production of the page, the editor of the gardening section, and the editor of the Weekend section, any of whom could have introduced the error and must surely bear responsibility for the result (cue frantic buck-passing). That means that up to five national newspaper journalists, supposedly the creme de la creme, were unaware of this schoolboy error. I am guessing that the average age of these employees is about 23 but I bet they all have first-class degrees from Oxbridge.



i newspaper, November 19, 2020

(51 words) Here’s a guessing game. You are the sub handling this story and you need a headline. Given that the purpose of a headline is to attract readers to the story, what would be the most attention-grabbing line you could think of? The chilli sauce? The age of the victim?

This is what the sub came up with:

I laughed aloud when I saw it. There is even room on the top line for chilli.

That’s just the start. Court reports should state the name of the court, the charge and the plea. It is usual to give an indication of where the defendant is from.

This is how I would have done it:

Robber jailed for chilli
attack on woman, 90

A serial robber who broke into a 90-year-old Birmingham woman’s house and sprayed her face with hot chilli sauce has been jailed for nine years at the city’s Crown Court. Mohammed Nawaz, 52, of no fixed address, admitted attempted robbery and administering a noxious substance. He has 36 previous convictions. (50 words)


Times, November 7, 2020

Another example of ignorance of the natural world which is endemic among young subs (they seem to think it is a demerit to know anything): a rodent is a class of mammal which encompasses the capybara at 4ft 6in long and the pygmy jerboa at less than 2in long. This is as stupid as saying ‘a fish-sized’ or ‘a reptile-sized’ animal.



i newspaper, October 7, 2020

You are the sub handling this story. I will assume you are aware that ‘Ann’ and ‘Anne’ are alternative spellings, otherwise you have no business in journalism. You see the name Anne Cryer. Do you think:

a)  I have never heard of her so I had better look up the spelling of her name, it will take only a few seconds and I want to get it right.

b) Hmm, I vaguely remember her but I am not sure if she is Anne or Ann, I had better look it up.

c) Who cares? It’s near enough and I am certainly not about to look it up.

The answer has got to be c. I would say you have no business in journalism.

While I am writing, I am constantly seeing ‘Back in . . .’ and ‘Way back in . . . ‘ Neither is necessary. Anyone capable of reading a news report will be able to work out that 2004 is before now.




I have collected these picture captions over the last few weeks. Spot a pattern?

It can be generally assumed that a story is about people. If it is about dogs, snakes or giraffes you would say so. It is also the most unimaginative way to start a caption. It is saying to the reader ‘I can’t be bothered to do anything but tell you what you can see with your own eyes.’ There is almost always a better word than ‘people’, for example in the Times caption bottom right, you could have said ‘Swimmers’ or ‘Bathers’.  (The top right caption uses ‘bathers’ but spoils it by adding ‘in the sea’. Where else would they be?)

The top three captions employ a construction I dislike, present tense followed by ‘yesterday’. This can be avoided by using the present participle which ends in ‘ing’, so ‘basking’ instead of ‘bask’.

Captions don’t need to be complete sentences either. Just to take the top left one as an example, it could have been:

Keeping cool in the sunshine, punters on the Cam in Cambridge yesterday


(Don’t use River unless it is necessary.)




i newspaper, September 7, 2020

The convention is that a man who comes under the general heading of ‘celebrity’ is called by the surname without the honorific. The only exception is if he is involved in legal proceedings. If the ‘celebrity’ is a woman, it depends on the kind of story. If this one had been about Serena Williams instead of Marcus Rashford, she would be Williams, not Ms or Miss Williams. However if the story was about her tennis outfit, for example, some outlets would call her ‘Serena’.


i newspaper, September 7, 2020

‘Continually’ and ‘continuously’ are not exactly the same, and the right word here is ‘continuously’.

From my style guide:

continual/continuous: continual means to recur at frequent intervals, as in ‘he was driven to violence by the continual barking of the dog next door’; continuous means prolonged without interruption, as in ‘he was driven to distraction by the continuous hum from the factory next door’. If in doubt, ‘constant’ should cover either.


The Times, September 3, 2020

Apparently the Times is being run by adolescents if the rude American expression ‘butt out’ is considered acceptable in straight reportage. If Mr Burnham had used it himself that would be a different matter (he didn’t), but it would need quotes round it to show that it was not the Times’s choice of words. Certainly the language evolves, but this is way over the line.


The Times, August 21, 2020

A spellcheck would have picked up the misspelling of pharaoh.

However to my dismay it would have accepted this version of ‘humorist’ from the same diary column even though in my book it is wrong, and not as far as I know considered correct by reputable dictionaries. Which goes to show that spellchecks are not infallible, or maybe they are ahead of the curve in legitimising ignorance. There can, however, be no doubt that Hoffnung’s name was Gerard, not Gerrard. Still, maybe he was wrong.