i newspaper, December 27, 2017

(100 words) Here is an interesting story with not much space to tell it in. However the person who handled it has seen fit to repeat ‘remote island’, ‘off the west coast of’, ‘wildlife’, ‘rangers’ and ‘birds’. That doesn’t leave much room for facts. Oh, and it’s not remote: as far as I can see it is about half a mile from the mainland.

This is how I would do it:

A couple have landed their dream job looking after 100,000 birds on a Scottish island.

Craig Nisbet, 38, and Francesca Clair, 35, will live on Handa, off the west coast of Sutherland, from March to September, sharing a £14,500 salary.

Handa is home to one of Europe’s biggest colonies of guillemots, as well as red grouse, puffin, Arctic skua, Arctic tern and eider duck, and is visited by around 7,000 tourists a year.

The couple, both experienced wildlife rangers, will have free accommodation in a bothy. They will be joined by four long-term and 50 weekly volunteers over the season. (100 words)




i newspaper, December 27, 2017

This does not ‘beg’ the question, it ‘raises’ the question. Begging the question is a very specific usage which is rarely needed. Also known as a circular argument, it involves making a firm conclusion on the basis of an arguable proposition. For example: ‘Why did God make parasitic worms?’ This begs (or avoids) the question of whether God exists. You can find out infinitely more about this at


The same piece in the i newspaper featured this caption:

This is the first time I have seen viral used in a comparative way, and I don’t like it. This suggests that you can have ‘mildly viral’ or ‘almost viral’ or ‘very viral indeed’. I would say that ‘viral’ cannot be qualified – it is either viral or it is not. No doubt everyone will soon be using it like this, though.



i newspaper, December 23, 2017

Sometimes I wonder if there are any sentient beings involved in the media at all. Surely if you saw a name like ‘Silk Milk Drive’ you would think, Hmm, that looks a bit odd, I wonder if should be ‘Silk Mill’? Which of course it is. The i was not the only offender. This error, which I assume came from agency copy sent to every news outlet, went into the Sun, the Guardian, Mail Online, Metro and the Yorkshire Post – which is based in Leeds! (It was later corrected on its website). Presumably there are still some humans working at the Daily Star, ITV Online, BBC Online and the Mirror, which spotted the mistake.


i newspaper, December 23, 2017

Can anyone explain this thought process? ‘Here is a story concerning Princess Michael and a brooch. I will choose to illustrate it with a picture in which the brooch is covered by a seatbelt, not one of the many in which it is clearly visible.’

Here is an example:

The Times, December 23, 2017

This piece also contains an example of what can happen when paragraphs are run on to avoid a short line at the top of a leg (called a ‘widow’ in my day). Paragraphs denote that the content is related, and in this case it looks as if the topics of slavery and Miss Markle belong together. This is unfortunate. The appearance of the page should never take precedence over the words. Here, it would been a simple matter to add extra spaces to fill out the top line of the second leg and still start a paragraph with the next sentence.



i newspaper, December 22, 2017

(42 words) So often short pieces like this are shovelled through without any thought, yet with only a few minutes’ work they can be little gems. I guarantee that the Anniversaries feature has more readers than much of the heavy stuff.

There are several problems with these 42 words. If an animal (or person) is ‘born’, it is by definition a ‘baby’.  It does not arrive with a name. The gorilla did not ‘become’ the first born in captivity, it ‘was’ the first. It is repetitive to use ‘born’ twice and ‘gorilla’ three times. The tense switches awkwardly from present to past. ‘Brought’ implies coming towards the writer, whereas ‘taken’ is neutral. I think this is better, since we are not in the US. And how about the fact that she died only this year, aged 60? Surely that’s worth a mention! NB In this case I think it is ok to talk about the animal as ‘she’, rather than ‘it’.

This is how I would do it:

Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, made her entrance at Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Her parents were western lowland gorillas captured in French Cameroon and taken to the US in 1951. Colo died at the zoo in January this year aged 60. (43 words)




The Times, December 19, 2017

To prise means to wrench something from someone’s grasp with difficulty. This seems an odd word to describe a one-sided three-nil slaughter.

‘Mike Atherton’s Ashes verdict as Australia steamroller England’ might be nearer the mark.




The Times, December 20, 2017

‘Mistake’ and ‘accident’ are not synonyms.  A mistake implies lack of judgment or getting it wrong. An accident is something that happens by chance or without apparent cause. It was right to avoid the repetition of  ‘accident’ in the heading and the intro, but the alternative word in the heading should have been ‘chance’.