The Times, March 15, 2017

Another unnecessary and dreary attempt to dress up a reasonable intro. Just knock off the words up to the dash. In any case, someone who fears spiders is an arachnophobe, not the clumsy ‘arachnophobia sufferer’. ‘Predator’ and ‘prey’ are repetitive, and I think ‘devouring’ and ‘voracious’ are too similar to use in the same sentence. I would use ‘tons’ rather than ‘tonnes’ since there is almost no difference in weight.

This is how I would tackle it:

Spiders are among the world’s most voracious predators, feasting on up to 800 million tons of  victims a year, scientists have found.

The slaughter has a major impact on insect populations, they believe.

Although individual spiders eat such tiny creatures, there are a huge number of them – 45,000 species with a collective weight of 25 million tons. A Swiss and Swedish team has calculated that their prey adds up to between 400 million and 800 million tons a year.

By comparison, humans consume about 400 million tons of meat and fish, and whales get through an estimated 280 million to 500 million tons.

Spiders mainly eat insects and springtails, which are small insect-like arthropods. Larger species occasionally dine on vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish and small mammals.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Nyffeler, from the University of Basel, [I think Times readers should be expected to know that Basel is in Switzerland, not Sweden] said: ‘Spiders make an essential contribution to the balance of nature. [Then run on the rest.]







The Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour, 47 minutes in what was the first ever meeting between the two.

BBC Sport website, March 3, 2017

This is a rotten sentence.

  1. ‘in what was the . . .’ Such an ugly construction, and unnecessary – ‘in the . . .’ is all that’s needed.
  2. ‘the first ever’: Another unnecessary word – ‘the first’ is perfectly adequate.

This gives you

The Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour 47 minutes in the first meeting between the two.

which is shorter and cleaner (I have also lost the superfluous comma). I would be tempted to turn it round like this

In the first meeting between the two, the Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour 47 minutes.

which I think is more elegant.


i newspaper, February 25, 2017

Why are there quotes on the word ‘smuggled’? Is there a fear that the tortoises will sue? Or the smugglers? Quotes are often used to indicate that something is an allegation but beware: this may not give legal protection. I don’t often suggest leaving out facts, but in this short I would be tempted to delete the dates because they raise the questions of where the tortoises were for three years after being seized in Hong Kong, and why it has taken the zoo five years to put them on show. Plus, what happened to the other nine? Stories should never leave unanswered questions.


Sunday Times, February 26, 2017

Since when has height been correlated with intelligence? Are short people normally thick? The Sunday Times liked this novel idea so much that it was pulled out for a display quote. A sub must consider not only grammar, spelling and punctuation, but also whether the words make sense or if, as here, they are pure drivel.


i newspaper, February 25, 2017 Page 2 (59 words)

This is truly pathetic. There is room for only three sentences, yet the third is almost identical to the first. Here is the main story on Page 9:

Admittedly it’s pretty thin, but there is enough to make three different sentences in the write-off. (Nice headline, by the way.) This is how I would have done it:

Being able to see birds from your window can have a positive effect on mental health, say researchers. Studies in Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford found that lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression were associated with seeing more birds, as well as trees and shrubs. Common species glimpsed included blackbirds, robins, bluetits and crows. (55 words, and not one ‘people’)






You have a good story about Sir David Attenborough doing a new nature series at the age of 90. Do you:

Times, February 20, 2017

(a) Try to dress it up with a baffling intro and throw in some anthropomorphism, or . . .

i newspaper, February 20, 2017

(b) do a straight intro which readers will understand at once and make them want to find out more?

It’s no contest, is it?



i newspaper, February 18, 2017

Birds do not give birth. They lay eggs, which hatch. It would be better to say ‘Wisdom, the world’s oldest known seabird, has become a mother again in her seventh decade.’ I would lose the line about being the oldest breeding bird in the wild to avoid repetition. Anyway, how can this be stated as fact? In the third par from the end, I would say ‘albatrosses’ rather than ‘albatross’. And in the last par, is it really necessary to point out that an albatross is large?

PS The caption curse strikes again: