Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

“Lamentable and predictable”: BBC News writing?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 6, 2009


BBC Look North (Leeds)

BBC Look North (Leeds)

Interesting letter made it into the Yorkshire Post today



MY 11 and 14-year-old sons Frankie and Tommy are very critical of TV presentational style, especially Look North [BBC’s regional news programme from Yorkshire].

From Alan Partridge they understand the ridiculous “epithet inversion” technique for an intro to a story.

At its worst, this involves simply repeating some dramatic accusation or cry of pain eg, “You’re killing me and you’re killing my family” (dramatic pause), followed by, “Those were the words of…” or, “That was a 59-year-old Leeds woman’s response to…”

But by far the most common device – in fact every story on Look North was introduced like this last night – is a simple inversion  of the second part of the sentence with the first.

Thus, “Passengers on trains into Sheffield yesterday were stuck for over two hours due to flooding of the track” becomes, “Stuck for two hours on a flood track. That was the fate of passengers on trains into Sheffield yesterday.”

I suppose the editors have come from newspapers and don’t realise that dramatic headlines sound stupid when they’re read out. I imagine it was the same with early films when actors used to projecting for the stage encountered the much more intimate medium of the film camera. But they’ve been making news programmes for 50 years now.

It makes for the most lamentable and predictable TV. Why not aim a little higher, BBC Leeds?

From: Mark Wilson, Headingley, Leeds.

A very good dissection from, what appears to be an ordinary viewer. He could have a background in journalism, but if he’s just an ordinary punter, the overuse of one style must be really noticable.

In TV news you should be writing in a conversational style, and always trying to surprise the listener – while always being accurate.  The “epithet inversion” as Mr Wilson calls it, is a good one…if used sparingly.

And in fact there’s an argument starting a news story with a dramatic statement – and then clarifying it afterwards, is inaccurate and bad writing. But watch the BBC Six O’Clock news tonight  and see how often it’s used.

Lamentable and predictable indeed.

(Hat tip: Larry the News Guy)


2 Responses

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  1. olly said, on July 9, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    great post adam – which i’ve blogged about and linked to over at

    bbc news writing irritates me intensely sometimes, and it’s interesting to see it’s not just geeky journos like us that notice it, but viewers too.

    i’ve always thought that if a story is strong enough, it doesn’t need a ‘creative’ top line (and i use the word creative very loosely there) – because it will sell itself.


  2. major said, on July 19, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    That’s great info..

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