The three-newsroom problem

5 Jul

Vienna – “Austria’s capital, Vienna” – is the most liveable city in the world, and the Tribune is all over the story. Global news, global news organisation: it’s the perfect fit. Except that, no sooner have we announced the winner than, one paragraph later, we’re straight into a controversy about … Auckland.

Now, Auckland was last year’s winner by reason of its strict lockdown, and now it’s 34th for the same reason, which is interesting. OK. But two brief paragraphs about Vienna later, we move on to … Melbourne. Melbourne came tenth.

Then we address Australia’s other major cities, none of which are in the top 25. Finally, at paragraph seven, we get to a brief rundown of the six European cities in the top 10.

By paragraph 11, we’re back on the subject of Melbourne, with a quote from the premier of Victoria,

and you start to suspect that, just possibly, this global-interest story about all the world’s cities was filed by the Australian office. The byline tells you only that the article is by “Staff and agencies”,

but the dateline reveals a launch time of 2.43am, British summer time – approaching 10pm for the US office, which is day shift only, but 11.43am, right in the middle of the working day, down under.

The Tribune has three fully fledged newsrooms: London, New York and Sydney. The demerits of having a trio of autonomous operations running in parallel have been rehearsed at length in this blog, but of course there are merits as well. For instance, live blogs and big rolling stories in one country can be kept alive all night and into the morning by the other two offices; as a natural consequence of the time zones in which it operates, the Tribune never sleeps now. Quality of coverage may dip a little as, say, London reporters wrestle with the snakepit machinations of Capitol Hill, but breaking political news at 5am EDT will be up ready for a breakfast audience across the US before the baton is handed back.

In these circumstances it is instinctively understood who the story “belongs” to, and which are the senior and junior newsrooms in each case. There is also a clear, if slightly troublesome, policy about whether you should write local news chiefly for a local audience in each jurisdiction: the answer is yes, even if those stories sound a bit baffling to readers abroad. The three-newsroom problem that we do not seem to have addressed yet is what to do about stories of apparently global relevance where all the interest will in fact be local, and vary according to where it is being read.

Last year we discussed the Sydney-bureau story about heat deaths around the world in which all the experts quoted were Australian. This story has a further problem: despite introducing antipodean figures as though they were familiar names, it also tries to adopt a slightly tortured citizen-of-nowhere approach to the geography (“Switzerland’s Zurich”, “fellow Swiss city Geneva” and so on). London, the Tribune’s home and headquarters, is not mentioned until the 18th paragraph. The same is true of New York (or, as the article calls it, “the US city of New York”).

A conscious attempt at impartiality mixes with the subconscious desire to find relevance for the home market, and for two-thirds of its audience the story jars. But it’s hard to believe that writers in New York or London would, or could, have approached it any differently.

And that leaves us with a suggestion that defies efficient planning and good internet practice, but seems to make the most journalistic sense: if you have three newsrooms, are there in fact some stories that you need to cover three times?

On repeat

21 Jun

(Warning: graphic content and links to graphic stories)

On the Mail homepage, next to a piece about an OnlyFans model’s “eye-popping assets”, there is currently a video playing of a man being blown up by a sea mine. Filmed by a surveillance camera from long distance, it shows a wide, empty beach in Ukraine on a sunny day, suddenly punctuated by an explosion at the water’s edge and a dark upsurge of sand.

There is no graphic content warning. The video autoplays when the site loads and repeats, so if you have just popped in to read about Coleen Rooney’s new bikini in the sidebar, your eye is constantly caught by the tiny figures of the man’s wife and son, running along the beach some way behind him and then stopping in shock – a three-second snuff movie looping over and over again. If you are trying to read the advertising feature immediately to the right about putting up garden bird feeders with your children, you may also notice the standfirst to the video, which tells readers that the explosion “scattered the 50-year-old’s body parts across the beach” as his “distressed” family looked on.

Twenty or so years ago, in the wild-frontier days of Web 1.0, there used to be a website that specialised in horrific news and paparazzi photographs that no one else would publish – the remains of suicide bombers after detonation, car accident victims in extremis, and so on. Covering itself, supposedly, with the mantle of documentary veracity, its tagline was: “Are you ready for real life?” But that was a small, dark corner of the old internet that wasn’t prominent on the search engines of the time – not a vast news site also eager to keep you updated on a “flash of bronzed legs” and capital gains tax on second homes.

In the unmoderated comments below, meanwhile, readers – no doubt all genuine Mail-reading yeomen of Middle England – are dismissing the video, which was supplied by Odesa regional police, as propaganda relating to the row between Kyiv and Moscow about the mining of the area. “Why would Russia with their mighty Black Sea Fleet want to put mines in the Black Sea?” writes someone listed as coming from Birmingham. “It would have also been Ukrainian since Ukraine seems to not anchor their mines in place very well,” writes Doug, from Sudbury. The Tribune is discreetly offering counselling to the picture editors who are processing the many explicit images coming out of the war, but that seems to be less of a problem for the commentators. “Photo of body parts please – need proof!” writes Dobby from the United Kingdom.

Even if this dispassionate panel of experts is right, in a sense it’s irrelevant: the point is that the Mail believes the video is real, believes it shows a death, and has thought it suitable to place, rewinding unstoppably, on the same page as a jolly read on bedroom turn-offs.

It would be easy to conclude that this bewildering collision of sensibilities is a byproduct of digital imaging and internet culture: a modern-day phenomenon that would have foundered on the gate-keeping and laborious production methods of times gone by. But tabloid tastes go back much further than that: consider the picture-papers of the 19th century, which ranged from respectable to publications such as the Illustrated Police News:

This edition, from September 1888, features the Whitechapel murders – that is, the Ripper murders – in a manner familiar to readers 130 years later. There is blanket coverage and an abundance of queasy detail. The twin tabloid tides of prurience and outraged respectability surge and ebb, between the savage man brandishing a knife and the women demurely holding up their self-defence weapons. They do not have a close-up photo of Annie Chapman as a corpse, so the artist has drawn one instead. There are even more pictures than you’d find in a modern Mail article. And, just for contrast, at bottom left we have “exciting scenes at the menagerie”; in the best desensitising tabloid tradition, there’s a cute animal story right next to the serial killings.

Open quotes

7 Jun

Thanks to all who took part in last month’s quotes quiz. If you did, you may remember it was observed then that the use of some quotations in British headlines remains impossible to categorise. The examples in the questions were chosen because they were clearly more one “type” than any other, but there are many cases where several rationales for the use of quotes blur into each other, and although it seems clear a phrase ought to have them, it is hard to single out why.

Take, for example, a phrase from Britain’s recent political past: “national living wage”:

At the time it emerged, the Tribune had been publicising the work of the Living Wage Foundation, which calculates a voluntary “real-world” minimum wage, higher than the UK statutory rate, which employers can sign up to pay. Then in the 2015 budget, the chancellor, George Osborne, announced a significant increase in the statutory minimum wage, alongside a rebranding of that rate as the “national living wage”.

However, then as now, the increase in the minimum wage fell some way short of the Living Wage as set and publicised for some time under that name by the foundation. (Currently, the campaign estimates it to be £800 a year lower.) The phrase “national living wage” was, as the Tribune has noted tersely, “simply the name given to the statutory national minimum wage rate for over 25s”, and it has been placed within inverted commas ever since.

So what do they signify? Are they neologism quotes? Yes, certainly at the time. Are they scare quotes? Also yes, and predominantly so these days: the phrase may not always appear surrounded by negative rhetoric, but you are still supposed to detect the Tribune’s dissatisfaction with what it regards as political sleight of hand.

The same thing was also true of “levelling up” – the current administration’s professed desire to address regional inequalities. That was placed in quotation marks when it was first mooted, partly because of its unfamiliarity, and partly out of the need – essential for any media organisation – to avoid uncritically parroting the names of government initiatives when they are rhetorically loaded. (As we noted last time, scare quotes are not always a dishonest tactic, and can offer a legitimate distancing from questionable claims or nomenclature.)

Also, there are subtleties even in the apparently straightforward world of direct quotations, as this recent exchange between a Conservative MP and a Channel 4 newscaster demonstrates:

This is a classic debate about whether agreeing to a summation of your position by an interviewer counts as saying what your interlocutor said yourself. You may feel that Newman is right to defend the sentence in its original form, or you may (as I do) agree more with this tweet in the replies:

(Is there something slightly odd about the word “certainly”, which Clarke-Smith did actually say, appearing in a sentence that was otherwise uttered by Newman and assented to by him?) But either way, there are two striking features about Clarke-Smith’s objection: (1) it’s impressive that even he knows the first thing you do is blame a sub-editor; and (2) it’s not the substance of the allegation he is complaining about, but the presence of the quotation marks. It’s not entirely clear why. He is arguably entitled to demand their removal, but if you ran the original sentence exactly as it stands without them, it would be beyond reproach and scarcely less damaging to the moral authority of a legislator.

Is it possible that Clarke-Smith’s objection is based on an understood Fleet Street convention that inverted commas plus attribution in a headline mean that a quotation is genuinely verbatim? At any event, his sensitivity to their presence, and the long debate that goes on in the replies under Newman’s tweet, at least show how highly attuned the British news-consuming public is to the use of quotation marks, in all their complex forms, in headlines.

Feel the need for speed

24 May

Wow, Tom Cruise flew himself to the Top Gun premiere in a helicopter!

Oh no he didn’t!

Oh yes he did!

In fact, it says here he “slowly descended it”:

The trouble with reading an article when the Mail Online repair crew is halfway through fixing it is that it can be difficult to work out what’s going on. Pieces get rushed up, problems get spotted, angles get tweaked, but it doesn’t all happen at once, and some things don’t get put right for hours, or at all.

This article, on the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick in San Diego, went live at one in the morning in the UK

– or 5pm on the day of the event Pacific time, so very promptly indeed, and one or two spur-of-the-moment misunderstandings are to be expected. Obviously someone has been back in to the body text to remove the claims about Cruise doing his own piloting, and toned down the article headline

but, as of 9:28 the same morning, the video caption, picture caption and homepage headline remain uncorrected.

One or two other things don’t seem to be quite right either. Top Gun came out in 1986, so this is all happening 36 years later, not 34 years later as the headline claims. Also, at one point it says of Cruise’s co-star Jennifer Connelly:

But Connelly wasn’t in the original Top Gun. The character she is now playing, Penny Benjamin, was mentioned in the first film but never shown – she is the unseen admiral’s daughter in the line “You lost your qualifications as section leader three times … with a history of high speed passes over five air control towers and one admiral’s daughter!”

However, a further four hours later, someone on the Mail has made another flyby

– it’s not clear why it took that long to get round to it, but perhaps the pattern was full – and things have improved considerably. The adding-up in the headline is fixed:

all traces of misinformation about Cruise flying himself in have been expunged:

and significant additions to the text now help you understand who many of the people in the 96 (96!) photographs embedded in the piece actually are.

Still and all, this has taken 14 hours of on-off editing, in public, to get right. I understand the urge to rush something up and be first with the news – you don’t want to hold on so tight that you lose the edge – but would 40 minutes of extra editing time really have been a disaster when your unique saturation coverage is bound to draw a big audience anyway?

And, as we have seen before, some of the more-haste-less-speed inaccuracies have survived even this rewrite; Connelly is still, in this version, “reprising” a role she has never previously played. Also, as part of the improvements to the piece, there is now a fact box about the helicopter itself – only it’s in such a raw state that it seems to have been downloaded straight from the Notes app on someone’s phone.

And so the cycle of improvement can begin anew – or it could if the repair crew, going Mach 2 with their hair on fire, hadn’t long since been forced to move on to other things.

The Great Quotes Quiz

10 May

Hello and welcome! Can you tell an actual quotation from a paraphrased summary of a third party’s position – just by looking? Can you tell the difference between a newspaper trying to teach you a new word and a newspaper trying to make you fear one? The you’re an ideal contestant for The Great Quotes Quiz, where contestants pit their wits against the subtlest form of headline rhetoric on Fleet Street.

In today’s quiz, you will asked to detect which of the following four journalistic devices are being deployed in a series of headlines:

Actual quotes Quotations taken verbatim from the mouth of a person in the news.

Scare quotes (or sneer quotes) Quote marks placed around a word or phrase to single it out for the reader’s fear or contempt.

Neologism quotes Quote marks placed around an unfamiliar word to signal that although it is new to the reader, it is important and will be explained in due course.

Claim quotes Not actual quotations at all, but quote marks placed around the summary of an assertion made by a third party, about which the newspaper is reserving judgment.

This is not always easy – sometimes it’s impossible to distinguish what kind of headline you are looking at without reading the article. (For example, scare quotes can sometimes perform a secondary function as neologism quotes, inviting the audience to dislike a new word.) But as you work your way through the questions, keep in mind some identification tips from the headline-spotter’s field guide:

Actual quotes

• Significantly more likely to be attributed than unattributed: if quote marks and an attribution are both present in the headline, the likelihood of it being a real quote is high.

• More likely to contain a colourful or controversial turn of phrase, in which case the choice of words may well be the story. Claim quotes, by contrast, are usually written in workaday journalese.

Scare quotes

• Nearly always identifiable from the negative rhetorical loading of other words in the headline: for example, the word in quotes may be described as “bizarre”, “disturbing”, “baffling” and so on.

Neologism quotes

• The word in quotes is either recently coined or completely unfamiliar, but presented neutrally, without the negative rhetoric of the scare quote.

Claim quotes

• Significantly more likely to be unattributed than attributed: in British headline culture, the quotes are shorthand for an attribution.

• More likely to use standard headline language than be unusual or colourful.

So, if everyone’s ready, let’s begin!


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote


A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote

Q10 – for double points

First quote
A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote

Second quote
A. Actual quote
B. Scare quote
C. Neologism quote
D. Claim quote

How did you do? Scroll further down for the answers:

















Q1: A. Actual quote: (NB the online headline has now changed and quote has been demoted to the standfirst.) Note the vividness of the language and the presence of attribution in the headline.

Q2: D. Claim quote: This is a slight hybrid: someone quoted in the piece does actually say the word. But the absence of attribution in the hed, and the bald quotation of the single word, means the primary function of the quote marks is to signal journalistic impartiality about the claim being made.

Q3: D. Claim quote: (Headline shown was for print: link is to the online version.) A classic claim quote that reproduces the first paragraph of the story with the quote marks standing in for the attribution.

Q4: C. Neologism quote: Perhaps familiar enough not to need quotes any more, but in any event the phrase is on its own in the homepage headline’s kicker, without any prejudicial rhetoric to colour your view of it.

Q5: B. Scare quote: Note the fear-inducing tenor of the whole headline, especially the “so-called” preceding the quote.

Q6: A. Actual quote: Slightly trickier, as the attribution in the headline is a little ambiguous, but it is present, and the words quoted are vivid.

Q7: C. Neologism quote: This is, possibly, a borderline scare quote – breadcrumbing is after all described as a “mistake” – but it is more obviously a neologism quote of an unfamiliar term. Note too that the overall tone of the headline is instructional rather than angry.

Q8: B. Scare quote: “Self-styled”. Scare quotes are not always unfair: they can serve the useful purpose of signalling widely held doubts about unlikely claims.

Q9: A. Actual quote: Not just one attribution but two – one of them is almost bound to have said it! This is a classic interview-format headline – name-colon-quote, or quote-colon-name – which are always direct quotes, or should be.

Q10: A. Actual quote and B. Scare quote: The link from the first quote to its attribution is very direct, which gives you confidence that the dietitian did use those exact words; “so-called” is a classic scare-quote tactic.


26 Apr

We haven’t talked about claim quotes for ages, but they are, of course, still thriving in British journalism. (How do other media cultures manage without them?) However, whereas in the past we have seen them pressed into service to do things they were never designed to do, recently they seem to have started appearing around phrases where they aren’t needed at all.

As here, for example, in the Mail.

Of course, all are innocent until proven guilty, so the core allegation of price-fixing will need to be within claim quotes (or be equivalently qualified) for safety. But “is facing extradition”? The story contains extensive quotes from New York court documents demanding his presence in the US to answer charges, so it’s beyond question that he faces extradition, in the traditional journalistic sense of “facing” meaning “possibly subject to”. If you have sight of the documents, you have all the sourcing you need; there’s no need for uncertainty there.

Mail Online always has the longest headlines on Fleet Street, and as a consequence the longest claim quotes. Look at this impressive four-decker:

Certainly more headline-writing caution is required here than in the previous example, but even so it could be shorter. This is a Mail write-off of a story in the Sun, so not only do the direct allegations need to be in quotes but some of the presumptions in the source material do as well. The Sun states there was a security scare: the Mail is merely passing that on without standing it up, so that needs to be inside quotes. The same is true of the claims that the man was an overzealous fan and tried to get under the stage door – even the Sun doesn’t report those things as facts. But there need be, surely, no doubt about the name of the play, the venue, or the size of the cast, which at least takes it down from four decks to three if you end the quote after “door”.

Looking back at the first example, the keen reader will note that there are also quote marks around “pump and dump”, which may seem unnecessary since it is made clear in that clause that these are just claims. But in fact that is not a claim quote but something else – the you-aren’t-expected-to know-this-word quote, otherwise known as the we’ll-explain-this-later quote or the neologism quote, which is deployed to reassure readers that they shouldn’t be discouraged from reading on because of an unfamiliar phrase.

This is another in the sub-editor’s suite of quotation-based headline devices, to go with the claim quote, the scare quote (or sneer quote) and the actual quote. Here are three of the four side by side, again in the Mail:

(“Poison pills”: neologism quote; “final stages”: claim quote; “fluid and fast-moving”: actual quote.)

Once you get a feel for the publication, you can usually distinguish them from the headline context alone, without needing to read the story. Perhaps we should have a multiple choice quiz sometime – identify the type of quote? Watch this space. (BLOGGER PROMISES BIZARRE HEADLINE ‘QUIZ’ – ‘SOMETIME’).

Line by line

12 Apr

It is not, as a rule, this blog’s desire to be too literal-minded about cartoons. After all, it is still smarting at the incident, some years ago now, where the readers’ editor ran a correction – an actual correction – over a cartoon in the Tribune’s business pages showing the Greek prime minister and the head of the European Commission crashing into each other on a mountain road. The “mistake” was that their cars had been drawn as right hand drive, when they should have been left hand drive.

However, it is also this blog’s position that a typo spoils a joke (such as for example, the case of another Tribune business cartoon showing the word BREXIT hewn in vast letters of stone in an abandoned desert, only inadvertently without the “R”.) So there is a fine line to tread between presenting things to their best advantage and stepping all over the laugh.

Certainly on Horny Handed Subs of Toil, there are periodic objections to the careful subbing cartoons appear to receive in the New Yorker, even down to the famous diaeresis:

“Must be fun working there”, observes one group member. Although what are you supposed to do, have a different style guide for the jokes? I think I’d rather have that than this under-edited example from the Sydney Morning Herald:

That’s Olivia Newton-John: Newton with an N, not an M, so ONJ Wellness Centre.

And as for this recent example

again, I don’t want to be pedantic, but Sims’s unknown assailant would have made a much faster job of cutting the hole if he’d turned the saw the right way round.

Corr values

15 Mar

Ceaseless vigilance, that’s our creed, as demonstrated by a colleague last week:

Key to screenshot:

Orian Lockhart Spelling of quoted person’s name offered by the writer

((CORR)) CORRECT mark from the writer. This spelling is CORRECT. No need to check this

Oriana Leckert Actual spelling of the quoted person’s name, as googled and corrected nonetheless by the sub-editor

Text in blue Deleted text

Text in yellow Text ready for publication

It’s enough to make you want a short holiday, rescheduled from last year as a result of Covid travel restrictions. Fortunately, that’s just what’s coming up! The blog will return, trundling its wheelie case back from the airport, next month: see you then.

ї before е

1 Mar

It began on a faintly sceptical note – “what is the BBC up to now?” – but the Daily Mail’s change of heart, and change of house style from Kiev to Kyiv, happened quickly.

Last Wednesday, this article appeared on its website: for the Mail, a rare discussion of the implications of language that came close to publicly acknowledging the existence of the Daily Mail style guide (and how one would love to get a sight of that). And although the headline and first paragraph are redolent of the usual suspicion of the national broadcaster,

the rest of the article is actually an informative and lucid discussion of the question:

“Ukraine’s capital is known as Київ in Ukrainian and Киев in Russian. Both terms do not have a direct translation into the Roman alphabet, with Kiev, Kyiv, Kyyiv or Kiyev all being possibilities. 

But the spelling ‘Kiev’ is intrinsically linked with the old USSR due to its widespread use by the British and Americans while the city was under Soviet rule. 

This continued after independence in 1991, until ‘Kyiv’ was legally approved by the Ukrainian government …

Young Ukrainians see ‘Kiev’ as a relic of the Soviet past, and this view is now shared by the government, which launched a ‘KyivNotKiev’ campaign in 2018. 

At this stage, the Mail is still keeping its journalistic distance – the last line of the article is a brisk “MailOnline has contacted the BBC for comment”, interrogating the corporation on the reader’s behalf. But by Friday morning, the following note had appeared in the print edition:

and by Friday lunchtime, the website was leaping on board a social media bandwagon to get others to follow suit:

A style guide change within two days of first raising a style issue in public, and an explicitly advertised one at that: that’s unusual behaviour for the Mail.

Of course, commentators were not slow to point out that acknowledging preferred terms in this way might set an awkward precedent for Britain’s leading scourge of wokeness. As Neil Fisher of the Times acutely put it: “I love the distinction here between ‘virtue signalling’ and ‘a symbolic show of support’.”

But there seems no disagreement in the Mail, or among its critics, or in linguistic circles, about another aspect of the decision, which is the necessity and desirability of prescriptivism in these instances. Although linguists frequently condemn the imposition of editors’ arbitrary (sometimes very arbitrary) rules on published writing, few ever object when an oppressed group pleads for a deliberate change in language to be enforced. On Google Ngrams, which offers results for English up to 2019, the use of Kiev (blue line) always comfortably outstrips Kyiv (red line), which barely figures on the graph until the 1990s – one guesses as a result of independence – and then kicks up sharply from the early 2000s onwards, at around the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004. Kiev is, strictly speaking, the popular choice over time. But in circumstances like these, no one contends that corpus results should decide an argument on usage. Other considerations prevail.

These debates are not always easy ones: names and spellings matter to oppressors as well as the oppressed, as dictators’ renamings of cities and countries (and, in the case of President Nyazov of Turkmenistan, even days of the week) remind us. The Guardian thought hard before replacing “Burma” with “Myanmar” in copy, weighing the balance between an old name redolent of empire and a new one chosen by a brutal junta.

But the point is: these choices matter. They matter not just to editors in the newsroom, but to the people we are reporting on. Using a name, or shunning it, is, in the words of David Marsh, the Guardian’s former style guide editor, “a way of indicating, or at least of hinting at, approval or disapproval” – a way of signalling your support, and your values. Popularity and precedent, the principles on which descriptivism runs, are not equal to these circumstances. This is the other, not always acknowledged, side of prescriptivism – progressive, rather than regressive, and alive to the resonances embedded in a word, or even a spelling, that a purely descriptivist approach cannot hear.

Joining us in the studio …

15 Feb

It’s strange when the BBC does it, and now that ITV seems to be doing it too, it’s equally strange:

Like the BBC’s, the articles on the ITV News website are unbylined, and, like the BBC’s, ITV’s correspondents are sometimes quoted in them almost as though they were a source – an outside expert whose views have been sought – rather than a colleague of the person writing the article.

The rhetorical effect of this can be peculiar and, when it first came to the blog’s notice six years ago, it was hard to work out why it was happening. Such is the BBC’s mania for impartiality, the quoting of its own employees in the third person made it seem as though it wanted to be distanced from them, as it might from a contentious politician. A disclaimer like the one that accompanies links to Twitter – “the BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites” – seemed to hover over the quoted correspondents too.

For instance, in 2015, the anonymous author of a BBC article about a lawsuit by Rihanna wrote:

“The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman said this was the first reported English case of a celebrity claimant successfully relying on passing off to claim compensation for the unauthorised use of their personal image.”

Right: but was it or wasn’t it the first? Is there some doubt about this assertion? If one’s own legal correspondent says so, shouldn’t that be enough to report it ex cathedra? Passages like these have the effect of turning the spotlight away from the brand-name reporter and on to the mysterious online author. If Coleman is not entirely to be trusted, as this distancing suggests, who is actually speaking for the BBC? Is it the person writing the article?

However, in the ITV piece, the effect is slightly different. When this author says:

“Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana, who has spoken to sources in Whitehall, has the following explanation of what is happening with Ms Gray’s report”

the tone is not cautionary or distancing, but something rather more familiar: it’s introductory, the sound of one person handing over to another. In other words, it’s the sound of TV news.

The whole format of television current affairs is predicated on journalists asking other journalists what’s going on. “Alex is one of the few reporters still in Kandahar, and she joins us on on the line now. Alex, what can you tell us?” This, perhaps, is why this phenomenon is common on broadcasters’ news sites, but never seen elsewhere.

Newspaper hacks have their byline at the top of their work, but TV news correspondents have always needed someone else to introduce them. So the voice of the unbylined author that can seem so baffling to newspaper readers may not be the incorporeal conscience of the BBC: perhaps it’s just the voice of a facilitator in the middle, or a ringmaster introducing the acts. Perhaps It’s really the voice of a newsreader, but translated from the studio to the page?