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