The Times, January 5, 2017

Here is a reasonably straightforward story made nearly incomprehensible with an attempt at a clever intro, an earlier court case mixed into the second par, and the omission of salient facts.

The first question the reader would ask is ‘Why does he steal the eggs and how are they worth £5,000?’ With a bit of research on the internet I learned that Lendrum was caught with the eggs in an incubator, intending to keep them until they hatched and then sell the chicks to Middle Eastern falconry enthusiasts. Just a sentence would have made the whole thing clear. Incidentally I am not saying that the sub should go trawling round the internet and writing in stuff. But if there is a hole in the story you should ask the reporter or the newsdesk to fill it. Obviously that isn’t something I could do in this exercise.

It is not clear from this story when he was jailed or when he absconded.

I don’t think ‘on the wing’ is a phrase that can be applied to humans. If you want to pursue this metaphor, ‘taken flight’ or ‘has flown’ would be more appropriate.

This is how I would tackle it, bearing in mind that I have not seen the original copy:

A convicted thief of rare falcon eggs is on the run after being sentenced in Brazil for his latest crime.

Jeffrey Lendrum, 55, is considered to be a serious threat to birds of prey in Britain and other countries. The chicks from the eggs can be worth more than £5,000 each.

The former member of the Rhodesian SAS, who uses his training to reach remote nests, sometimes abseiling down cliffs or dangling from helicopters, has previously been jailed for stealing peregrine falcon eggs in Wales, and has been arrested in Zimbabwe and Canada.

After an anonymous tip-off, Lendrum was stopped at an airport in Sao Paulo a year ago with an incubator containing four albino falcon eggs stolen in Patagonia. He was en route to Dubai, where he planned that the eggs would hatch and the chicks sold to wealthy Arab clients.

[Paragraph here about him being jailed for four and a half years last week, I think, and about him vanishing ‘when released on bail to appeal against his sentence’. Has he been in jail in Brazil all this time?]

The peregrine is prized in falconry as the fastest bird in the world, reaching 242mph during a hunting swoop. The birds are protected by British law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). (This is the correct version of the Convention on International Endangered Species which appears in the story).

Lendrum, who has dual British and Irish nationality (need to check this, but you can’t just say ‘who has dual Irish nationality’), was jailed in 2010 for stealing 14 peregrine falcon eggs worth an estimated £70,000 from nests in South Wales.

He was spotted acting suspiciously in the departure lounge at Birmingham airport (not Birmingham City airport), and was found to have the eggs wrapped in socks and strapped to his chest. He tried to persuade police and customs officials that they were hens’ eggs which he had bought from Waitrose and attached to himself as a cure for back pain.

He pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to smuggling the eggs and was jailed for 30 months, reduced on appeal to 18 months.

Ledrum is from a wealthy family with interests in publishing. He has worked as a hunting guide, using the job as cover for his lucrative sideline. (Need to bring this background up, not leave it to the last par.)

He was first convicted in Zimbabwe in 1984 of dealing in protected birds of prey, and was arrested in Canada in 2002 for stealing peregrine and gyrfalcon eggs.

Andy McWilliam, investigations officer for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said there had been an increase in value in peregrine eggs to more than £5,000 each. (In fact the 2010 haul was valued at £5,000 each so is the line about a rise in value valid?)

‘I think Lendrum has been coming to the UK on an annual basis and taking peregrine falcon eggs,’ he said. (No need for square brackets round ‘eggs’ as in the published story. If Mr McWilliam did not use the word, his meaning is clear.)

Mr McWilliam, who interviewed Lendrum before he was jailed in Britain, admitted to a grudging respect for a ‘worthy adversary’. (You need this par to follow the previous history so that the reader knows why he is a worthy adversary).

‘We found notebooks and diaries among his possessions,’ he said. ‘I kept them because I was so impressed.

‘He was visiting Sri Lanka during the breeding season of a breed of peregrine falcon called the black shaheen. The notes had details of most sites he had visited. He goes into detail on security at the airport, how often they search people and if they have X-ray.’

This version is basically the same paragraphs in a different order with a straight intro and some corrections. I also found on the internet some interesting detail about what happened to the eggs (one chick hatched and was returned to the wild), but the sub may not have had it.

PS: The caption mentions a picture of a peregrine but this must have been removed at some point without changing the caption. As I have remarked, captions are a minefield.


i newspaper, January 7, 2017

What is wrong with ‘heads the cast’? Over the last decade or so, ‘up’ has become one of the most over-used and redundant words. Examples: park up, free up, train up. Not to be confused with perfectly good uses such as ‘tie up’, but it’s always worth considering whether ‘up’ is necessary.



i newspaper, January 4, 2017

This reads:

China’s monopoly over its salt industry – which has existed in some part for more than 2,000 years and predates the Great Wall – is set to ease; new regulations allow private companies to enter the previously state-run market. Under the new laws, wholesalers will be permitted to modernise distribution.  (48 words)


Many subs believe shorts are rather beneath them, but in my view they are the best test of ability. Any fool can tick up a page lead.

This is how I would amend and (I believe) improve this one:

China’s state monopoly over its salt industry, which has existed for more than 2,000 years, is being eased. Private companies are to be allowed to enter the market and set their own prices. Non-government salt sellers have been imprisoned even in the past decade. (44 words)

1 Insert ‘state’. Although it is in the headline, that is not enough. The story must be clear on its own, and without the word state it isn’t.

2 Replace dashes with commas. It is not a change of subject.

3 Delete ‘in some part’. Should this be ‘parts’? It doesn’t mean much anyway.

4 Delete ‘predates the Great Wall’. So what? If you don’t know the dates of building the Great Wall, and this piece isn’t going to tell you, it is meaningless.

5 Replace ‘set to ease’ with ‘being eased’. There is nearly always a better construction than the weary and lazy ‘set to’.

6 Replace semi-colon with full point. Semi-colons have a very limited use in news stories, and in any case this should be a colon as it expands upon the previous clause. I would not use that either.

7 Delete ‘new regulations’. What a dead phrase and after all this is a NEWSpaper.

8 The insertion of ‘state’ in the first line removes the need for ‘previously state-run market’.

9 Insert ‘and set their own prices’. This is the whole point of the story.

10 Delete ‘Under the new laws, wholesalers will be permitted to modernise distribution.’ Avoids repetition of ‘new’ and in any case does this chunk of jargon add anything? I don’t think so, but removing it allows space to

11 Add an interesting fact (found on the FT website).

As for the heading, the interesting fact suggested a better heading (in my view):

Shake-up for China’s
outlaw salt sellers

If the presence of the tag CHINA above the story forbids repeating the word in the headline, then it could be

Shake-up for the
outlaw salt sellers






Daily Telegraph, December 12, 2015

This Page One puff misuses the word ‘centenary’. A centenary is a 100th anniversary. Using it in this way is a bit like saying ‘A birthday on from . . .’ It should say ‘A century after . . .’ or ‘A hundred years on from . . .’ If it is the actual centenary date, it could say ‘On the centenary of the great singer’s  birth . . .’