Errors and Omissions: When does a quote become an ‘outburst’?

Our letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

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The Independent Online

On Wednesday we carried a report of the inquest on Stephanie Bottrill, who committed suicide, leaving notes blaming the bedroom tax for her plight. The third paragraph stated: “But in an extraordinary outburst after the inquest, her brother, Kevin Owen, said Ms Bottrill had used the bedroom tax as an ‘excuse’ and that she should have given up her home to others.”

“In an extraordinary outburst” is comment, not news; and it throws doubt on what Mr Owen said. Was he shouting? Waving his arms wildly in the air? We are not told.

We are told what he said, though: that his sister had attempted suicide before; that it was therefore wrong to attribute her mental state to the bedroom tax; that, being now the sole occupant of a three-bedroom council  home, her children having grown up and left home, she ought to have moved out and given someone else a turn.

On the face of it, not a totally unreasonable view. What I would like to know is how it came to be reported. Did Mr Owen just start talking to anyone who would listen; or did he call what is known in the trade as an “impromptu press conference” on the steps of the court building; or did a reporter approach him for a comment (only to be overcome, one imagines, with amazement and delight at the response)? If we knew that then we could form our own judgement on whether his remarks deserve to be called an “outburst”.

“A restaurant and rambling tour of the Rhone valley is a recipe for the ideal hiking holiday”, enthused the introductory blurb to a feature article on Wednesday. No, the tour isn’t a recipe, it actually is the hiking holiday.

Here is another blurb, from Thursday: “When a famous person dies, Facebook and Twitter light up as celebrities go online to share their thoughts. Nauseating? Or the spirit of the age?” It could be both.

Last week I ridiculed the decision to print an irrelevant picture of a castle, and reflected upon the plight of picture editors called upon to illustrate financial articles.

The picture editor responsible for that page protests that the fault was not his; his choice of picture was overruled by someone higher up the pecking order. I stand by my judgement that the picture was fatuous, but I should not have assumed that the culprit was a picture editor.

On Tuesday, Grace Dent defended the RSPCA against the charge that its inspectors have too much power: “As an animal-lover sickened on a daily basis by news of animal mistreatment, this feels like utter rot.”

That sentence does not fit together. It needs to be either “As an animal lover … I feel this is utter rot” or “To an animal-lover like me … this feels like utter rot”.

And there is that blasted “on a daily basis” again. Nobody seems to be able to write “daily” without embedding it in “on  a … basis”.