The way we attribute is formulaic and repetitive.

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

The way we attribute is formulaic and repetitive. We are especially fond of the ‘he says, she says’ construction.

Have a look at the two versions of the same intro below. One is very repetitive, the other, well it isn’t.

Consider that we do this in every other intro in every programme and it all begins to sound very ‘same, same.’

The verb ‘to say’ is also weak – try to find something with a bit more impact.

Palestine says it won’t make political concessions for economic benefit.

 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he wants to attract 4 billion dollars of investment into the Occupied West Bank as part of the peace process.

 But Palestine says any plan must insist on the freezing of illegal Israeli Settlements.

 Jane Ferguson reports from the Occupied West Bank.

 The Palestinian leadership is refusing to make political concessions in return for economic investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to attract 4 billion dollars of business into the Occupied West Bank as part of the peace process. 

But the Palestinians insist any plan must include a freeze on illegal Israeli Settlement building.

Jane Ferguson reports from the Occupied West Bank.

Just sent this to Al Jazeera newsroom staff

March 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

Please see below for some common crimes against stylish writing. Please don’t be a repeat offender.

China’s outgoing premier Wen Jiabao is promising the government will fight corruption and economic inequality in the country.

Pyongyang says it’ll scrap the deal if new sanctions against the country are approved.  

Mariana Sanchez is in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has stressed the importance of a strong economy and the well-being of the country’s people.

The phrase ‘in the country’  (and derivatives) is often unnecessary. It crops up a lot and makes the output sound repetitive. You will need it to use it, but every time you write it ask yourself if you really need it. You should be able to justify every word in your script.


Hugo Chavez is suffering from a severe respiratory infection after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

It’s possible to simply ‘have’ treatment. ‘Undergo’ and its derivatives are overused


And because I am a ‘glass half full’ kinda guy – here are a couple of scripts that made me smile. They are short and conversational. Remember if you write the way you would talk in polite company your scripts will sound more natural to the viewers.

Swing seats win elections – that’s why Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has chosen to start her re-election bid in Western Sydney.

It’s the heart of “middle Australia” where people live in sprawling suburbs.

And even though the poll is still more than six months away, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas reports the campaign is well underway.


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has taken a turn for the worse.

He’s come down with a  new and severe lung infection.

December 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Some magnificent, and beautifully worded advice from my colleague Paul Waters:

Can we please please banish the word “foiled” from our vocabularies? It’s a word that should be used only by guys with black moustaches who tie ladies to railroad tracks in early Hollywood melodramas or by cartoon beagles flying their doghouses into battle against the Red Baron. As in, “Curses, foiled again.”


How to Upset a News Anchor…

October 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

…it’s easy. Just put together an early hours of the morning bulletin and fill it full of scripts they’re really going to struggle with. This is the body of an email I have just received from a very disgruntled presenter. He has a point. Well, he has many points. Read ’em and weep – and please don’t repeat these mistakes.

People in the Syrian city of Raqqa are bracing for a rebel advance. (cliché)


In Somalia, African Union and local troops are patrolling Kismayo.

Several explosions have rocked the port city (cliché and journalese)


Ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada is planning a political come back (how many years ago was he ‘ousted’? Ousted? Awful journalese)


Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler has given evidence for the first time during his trial at the Vatican (Roman numerals on autocue? Seriously?)


More than 800 factories near the capital Jakarta are being hit by the walk out. Others are also at a standstill nationwide. (eh?)


In a story about graffiti vandals: “A leader of the minority Christian population wants the attackers brought to justice.” (attacked with a tin of spray paint)


Army personnel have been patrolling the steets, and say they now control the airport and police station. (soldiers? Journalese)


Results of stress tests on Europe’s nuclear reactors have been leaked to the media. Some make frightening reading. (really? Says who? Are we the Daily Mail?)


 Low marks were awarded to 19 sites in France, which is Europe’s largest nuclear nation. (Largest geographically? Or do we mean that they have more nuclear stuff than anyone else? Er, what do we mean?)

Quotation Marks – Why They Don’t Work in TV Scripts

September 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently, I have seen a number of scripts using quotation marks to attribute a position directly.

Here’s an example that was due to run in an Al Jazeera bulletin this morning: Well for the first time, Iran has confirmed its forces have been operating as “advisers” in Syria.

Quotation marks are a visual grammatical aid. Our viewers can’t see them when a presenter reads the script, so the emphasis intended is entirely lost. That’s unless we are expecting our presenters to do that weird quote gesture with their fingers. I guess that’s not the idea.

So, it’s much clearer to write the sentence above as follows: Iran has confirmed its forces have been operating in what it calls an advisory role in Syria.

I have also heard presenters reading scripts along the lines of:  “Joe Bloggs has described the incident as quote: a disaster of epic proportions. The script then continues without the presenter ever saying “unquote’’ so I have no idea if I am still listening to a quote or not.  It also sounds clunky so this technique is best avoided.

If you really need to deliver a weighty quote put it on a graphic. When you do, you’ll need those quotation marks.

How to Confuse Your Viewers

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Remember to tell your stories in short, active sentences. Each line of your report should contain only one main thought or idea. If you pack too much information into your sentences, the viewer will quickly lose track of your story. Sentences like this one don’t work:

But on Thursday a non-bailable arrest warrant against the outgoing textiles Minister was issued by an anti-narcotics court over his alleged involvement in an ongoing ephedrine case that Gilani’s son is also implicated in. 

If you find you have written a sentence like this you must go back to your script and break things up into shorter blocks. Remember – one thought or idea per sentence.

Critics Say and Other Redundant Phrases

May 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s the latest missive sent to my colleagues at Al Jazeera. Wherever you are, the same rules apply. 


I am repeatedly seeing “critics say’’ used as a way of attributing an idea. This does nothing to help our viewers understand the complex issues we deal with on a day to day basis. It also smacks of laziness. Consider this phrase banned. Please tell our viewers WHO is doing the criticising. It makes a very big difference.


This phrase is almost always redundant and we use it very frequently.  Read the sentences below and omit the words in italics. See – you really don’t need it. All these examples are from a single rundown. Correspondents are also doing this in packages. Please stop. It makes us sound very repetitive.

  • The latest amateur video from Syria shows people lining up to get cooking oil….estimates suggests more than a million people in the country now need humanitarian aid. 
  • An Afghan company once hailed as a model for the country’s economic development is at risk of bankruptcy.
  • He’s (Greek PM) promised to end the austerity measures which were imposed on his country under an international bailout deal.
  • Portugal’s government has cut the number of public holidays there


The sort of journalese below should never be used in a tv news script.

The use of the meaningless phrase “the move” in the second example only serves to conceal the main point of the story from our audience.  Anybody who tries to tell me it teases the story rather than gives it away will regret the move. 

  • Portugal has already cut public sector wages and raised taxes in a bid to (as it tries to) reduce its debts and ease its economic crisis. 
  • Relatives said inmates feared the move. (they would be killed)