Avoid this #news #writing mistake – ask yourself ‘Who was trapped in the car?’

This is a photo of a car window smashed by police – not a TV screen smashed by a viewer frustrated by bad news writing.

BBN kid in car

Police smashed the window to rescue a young boy left in a locked car by his father.

The reason I wanted to smash my TV screen was frustration at this bad news writing on a first break story on major Australian TV news service

“Despite spending three hours in the car, police say the little boy…”

No! It was not the police who spent three hours in the car! But it sounds like it – the way the sentence is written.

I often hear arguments from busy news writers – it doesn’t matter. The viewer won’t care or won’t even notice – or the viewer will know what you meant to say.

I argue that it’s easy to avoid this problem – and busyness is not an excuse​ for sloppiness.

The mistake easy to avoid – keep the ‘actor’ (subject) close to the action occurring (spending three hours in the car)

Who spent three hours in the car? The boy – not the police.

In an earlier post I wrote about this badly constructed sentence

“Protesters took on police armed with rocks.”

Once again: who has the rock? The protesters. So you should keep the rocks close to ‘who has them’ (the protestors)

Protesters armed with rocks took on police.

This sort of sloppy writing is very common in broadcast writing.

When I train news writers to improve their broadcast writing “keeping the actor close to the action’ is one of the things I stress (as my TV bosses did to me when I was starting out as a reporter and madink plenty of mistakes.)

How do you avoid this mistake?

Keep the actor close to the action. For example:

Police say despite the boy spending three hours in the car …

It’s not that hard. Reporters should remember to avoid this mistake. Subs should remember to look out for and correct this common mistake.



How to use restaurant and restaurateur in writing news – why there’s no N in restaurateur

It’s a common mistake when covering stories about restaurants and restaurateurs – putting an N in restauraNteur (in writing or saying the word).

It’s a common and ‘understandable’ mistake. You’d think a person who runs a restaurant would be called a restauraNteur.




In my local news, there’s been a lot of coverage about restaurants closing – and the restaurateur behind them.

When I train newsrooms on how to avoid common mistakes – restaurateur is one of the problem words we cover.

Some people just want to know WHAT the problem words are.

Others want to know WHY.

When I taught Business English in Asia for a decade, the students would often ask WHY questions like “Why is there no N in restaurateur?”

If you are interested in knowing WHY there is no N in restaurateur – here is a brief and simple explanation (as I understand it)

Restaurant – comes from French and was used to describe a place that served food to RESTORE a person’s energy and well-being.

Just think restaur – restore

In French, a person who does something often has the suffix – ateur:

Collabor-ateur *1

Am- ateur *2


So, the person who runs the restoring restaurant – is a restaur-ateur not a restauraNteur

TB media cc Slide1


*1 – in many English words the suffix became –OR but restauater remained

*2 Amateur – is someone who does things for LOVE (ama) nor money

The problem with words like #fracas – how do you pronounce fracas?

Some words look great in print stories but can cause problems in broadcast news when you have to pronounce the words.

This post was inspired by seeing this headline.


Franchise Fracas looks good – and can sound good with the alliteration​.

However, ‘fancy’ words like fracas can cause problems if reporters or readers do not know how to pronounce them. Especially, if the reader pronounces them differently from the reporter.

Often there are generational and geographical differences in how people pronounce these ‘fancy’ words.

Often a more mature reader will pronounce the words in the correct British English way and a younger reporter will use the US English pronunciation – which is often as a word ‘looks’. In words borrowed from foreign languages, many letters are silent – like the S in fracaS.

My understanding is that the US English pronunciation is frak-as (where the S is pronounced)

The British English way – especially with the more mature audience is frak-ah (no S.)

In my opinion, especially with commercial TV news, whichever way you choose to pronounce it – part of your audience will think you are wrong.

I’ve heard complaints from more mature TV viewers that network international correspondents often mispronounce words like fracas and cache and niche

I usually advise newsrooms to be aware of problem words (where you will seem wrong even if you are technically correct). Try to find simpler everyday words that don’t have different ways of pronouncing them.

I love the word combination franchise fracas in print. I’d just avoid it in broadcast.


1. make sure the reader and reporter pronounce the words the same way, and
2. use the Brit-English pronunciation

In busy newsrooms, it’s easier just to find a simpler word. You can still have the words in print on the screen behind the reader/s. Just find a simpler word for the intro and package.

Avoid too many #teasers that sound the same or similar

This post was inspired by seeing two stories grouped too close together with headlines that seemed too similar.

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They two stories used the same teasing technique:
1. suggesting some surprise​ or something unexpected
2. the use of the word THIS – so the reader has to click through to see what THIS is.

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In my professional opinion, ‘teasing’ is a necessary part of modern news writing and the technique itself is not the problem.

The problem is seeing the same technique used in two stories so close to each other.

I understand that with continuing staff cuts across media, newsrooms have fewer people to check. However, it should be part of a newsroom’s standard procedure to check the blocks of story teasers that appear together on-line or in the ‘breakers’ in a TV newscast. (breakers – are the group of stories announced as ‘coming up’ or ‘don’t miss’ as a TV newscast goes into a commercial break).

The purpose of breakers is to ‘tease’and intrigue viewers to get them to stay tuned and not change channels during the break. Breakers are important. Breakers can be another ‘danger zone’ if the same ‘teasing’ wording is obviously repeated.

I’ve seen examples of wording that is too similar in writing TV breakers too –

e.g. blah blah blah…what happens next? (repeated) or

How to X (repeated) or

why Z happened? (repeated)

a lucky escape for Y (repeated)

News writers – especially those entrusted with writing teasers or breakers should expect this potential problem and check and if necessary change the wording or pick different stories to promote.

It should not be an excuse to say: ‘I wasn’t expecting this”

#Teasing news stories – show just enough to make the audience want more

I know this idea of teasing stories may sound ‘sleazy’ but it’s the sad reality of modern news trying to get readers to ‘click through’ to on-line ‘newspaper’ stories and to ‘stick through’ watching TV news bulletins.

Writing ‘teasers’ is a necessary part of journalism these days and when I train writers in newsrooms, I often need to teach them not to ‘reveal too much’ – reveal just enough to arouse interest or curiosity so the reader or viewer wants to click through or stick through.

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This ‘story’ I saw this morning was a good example in my professional opinion.

It reveals just enough – in the words and the photo.

The words and photos have to make you want to know what “this” is.

Taking photos for ‘teasers’ and editing TV teasers is a skill in itself – you have to hint at what ‘this’ is – but not reveal it all.

I looked carefully at the accompanying photo – thought what it could be – and then wanted to click through to see if I was correct.

Another factor arousing curiosity and interest was the contrast between a usually inexpensive sandwich and the $35 price tag. What could cost that amount?

Anyway, my suggestion to you when writing (or editing or shooting video/stills) for a teaser – don’t reveal too much in the teaser.

Now I am hungry for one of those sandwiches!

Food is a great magnet to arouse interest – especially around times the reader or viewer may be hungry.

A good example of news #writing to ‘tease’

This post was inspired by a news story that hooked my attention and made me want to click through to read it. In journalism terms – it used a ‘tease’. And it delivered on its promise!

A large part of good news writing these days involves promoting and teasing stories – in print, to get readers to ‘click through’ and in TV to get the audience to ‘stick through’ the ad break to watch a story.

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Writing teasers is an important skill – and we can all learn from this example. Not all stories are as ‘tease-able’ as this one.

This tease uses some of the latest ‘teasing techniques’. For some more mature and dignified journalists, the example may annoy – but in my professional opinion, this example effectively ‘sells’ why the reader or viewer should bother investing their time and ‘clicking through’ or ‘sticking through’ an ad break.

1. the headline hooks attention – and arouses curiosity. It makes the audience want to find out the name
2. the ‘copy’ or wording sets up and promises a viewer/reader benefit. What will they get from clicking through or sticking through? In this case – a laugh when they learn the name
3. the story delivers and delivers fast on the promise. I won’t spoil the ‘surprise’ by mentioning the name here – but for readers coming to this story late or without access to the story – I’ll mention the name at the end where you can avoid the ‘spoiler’ if you choose to.

These techniques can be used in broadcast (TV and radio) teasers too.
The name of the horse – if you want to know……(scroll down)






…Wear the Fox Hat. (I remember hearing an old joke with this wording too).

News writing – Good repetition/Bad repetition Part 2

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)


In part 1, I wrote about good repetition. Now here’s an example of the sort of repetition you want to avoid.

You want to be careful that words in the intro (in the last sentence)  that ‘throw to your package’ – aren’t repeated in the opening words of the package.

For example: the last words of an intro –

…as the flames rage out of control

first words of the package:

Exploding out of control…the flames…

When subbing intros and scripts, one of the things I look for is to make sure the opening line of the script doesn’t ‘parrot’ (repeat) the intro.

You also don’t want words in a grab (quote from talent) repeating words in the story script throwing to the grab.

Here’s link to

Good repetition part 1

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TV #writing tip: avoid parroting…avoid parroting

Avoid parroting​!

This post was inspired by seeing a bad example of ‘parroting​’ in a major Australian commercial TV news last night. It was in one of the major first break stories too. Maybe the story/package came in late from interstate – but in my opinion, the parroting​ should have and could have been avoided.


Basically, ‘parroting’ is bad repetition and it can happen in the intro/package transition and in the grab set-up/grab transition. The media industry term is called ‘parroting’ as a derogatory term for the way parrots repeat what people say – word for word.
It applies to radio reports too.

In the story that inspired this post – the last words of the reader intro were:

…the search for answers

the first words from the reporter package were:

The search for answers…

Even with late-breaking stories or stories ‘in late and up early’ in the bulletin, news producers should look at the wording in the scripts of the intro AND the package – and change the wording if necessary.

The package​ is already recorded​ and edited – so you need to tweak the intro.

I understand with continuing​ media cutbacks there are less people in newsrooms to check potential problems like parroting​ – however in my professional opinion parroting​ is such an obvious mistake and is easy to avoid.

Just check the last words of the intro and the first words of the package. If they are too similar or the same – tweak the intro.

The TV ratings battle and the importance of #news #writing accuracy

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)

This post was inspired by hearing older TV viewers say they no longer watched a particular TV news because this news service seemed to have no respect for history – especially Australian military history.

Last night, I heard a news writing example that illustrated the danger of offending the older audience that still gets its news from evening TV news bulletins.

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The story (and breaker tease) were about the 100th anniversary of the famous Australian Light Horse Charge and victory at Beersheeba in 1917.

It referred to the Charge of the Light Horse Brigade.


The problem is: it sounds as if the writer is confusing the Light Horse charge with the Charge of the Light Brigade.



The famous Charge of the Light Brigade was in a different war in a different century.

Now, maybe the writer was being clever in ‘referring’ to the famous Charge of the…

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Why media should learn the difference between stealing and robbery

This post was inspired by reading this news report this morning – and it shows the need for journalists to understand the difference between robbery and stealing. They are not the same thing.

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The actual story got it right – the headline was wrong. This was a case of stealing not robbery.

Robbery is far more ‘severe’ with a more severe penalty and involves violence or the threat of violence​ when taking something. The crime has a heavier penalty because the victim suffers not just the loss but also the distress of the threat.

When the police issue media releases or make statements they get the terminology right.

Usually, more experienced police reporters know the difference between robbery and theft and get it right.

My argument is: reporters ‘filling in’ on police rounds or writing the headlines should be trained to get rob/steal right too.

In this case, it’s alleged that the offender snuck​ in and stole the phones. There was no robbery.

It’s not that hard for journalists to get these simple things correct.


When I help fast-track new journalists (and ‘remind’ more experienced ones) the rob/steal, robbery/theft correct usage is one of the​ many things we cover.

So, I urge reporters to remember that robbery is a more extreme offence that involves a more severe form of stealing – often with the threat of violence.

The way I was taught to remember the difference was to think of a bank robber – who usually uses some form of threat to get people to hand over the money.

A thief often takes things without a person seeing it – without threatening the person. They STEAL with STEALth.