Errors & Omissions: No need to create false tension – but we couldn't resist
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at King's College, London, and at Queen Mary University of London. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Saturday 24 December 2011
The word "but" is sometimes used in the first paragraph of a news report to suggest a tension that is not there. We had one on Monday.
"It may be a quintessential English firm – an Old Bond Street address and the Prime Minister's wife as an adviser helps – but the upmarket stationery manufacturer Smythson has decided it is time to expand the empire and break into Hollywood." There is no obvious contradiction between being an English company and wanting to break into Hollywood. Nor is there an obvious need for the words "upmarket", "manufacturer" or "has decided it is time to". We could simply have reminded the reader that Smythson, the stationer, has a political connection, and reported that it is expanding into product placement, in this case in the new Sherlock Holmes film. Saying it plainly is interesting enough.
No ifs or buts: We did it again on Thursday, when we reported that Republicans in Congress refused to continue a payroll tax cut, "but left themselves vulnerable to angry Democrats". As the writer went on to say that "Barack Obama's strategists must be cock-a-hoop", it would have made more sense to have said, "thus leaving themselves vulnerable".
First time for everything: It must be time to retire "maiden" to mean "first", surely. Some in Westminster still refer to an MP's first speech in the House of Commons as his or her maiden. But does that justify a report on the business pages on Tuesday looking forward to Ocado's "maiden pre-tax profit"? No.
Misdirected outrage: We suggested the opposite of what we intended in a news story on Wednesday. We reported plans for a private bus service for ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, after "public outrage at an incident where a secular Israeli woman refused to take a seat at the back of a public bus travelling to an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem at the request of a religious male passenger". As Gordon Whitehead wrote to point out, that makes it seem as if the public were outraged by the woman's refusal. In fact, as became clear at the end of the report, the outrage was occasioned by the man's request. The sentence should have said something like "public support for a woman who refused ...".
Up to date: Our story on Wednesday about the theft of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture tried to explain who she was: "Ms Hepworth, who died in 1975, is widely considered one of the UK's finest contemporary sculptors." A minor point is that our style is to drop the Mr or Ms for dead people, but more striking was the use of the word "contemporary". After all, she died in 1975. Perhaps the problem was that "20th-century" had been used twice already in the article, in which case "modern" would have done.
Guy Keleny is away
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