Portfolio feedback (live)

I cannot give feedback on everything, but these are observations on problems in portfolio items I have seen. I will update this as I see more.


A couple of stories have got the sentence confused. In both cases, they concerned suspended sentences. It was not understood that the defendant WAS given a prison sentence, but it was suspended for X months  – meaning if they stay out of trouble for those X months, they don’t have to serve the prison time.

So we need to be told how long the prison sentence was, AND how long it was suspended for.

Beware of saying the judge “appeared to think” or “believe”, because it looks as if you’re speculating. Say, the judge said…

Fines: we don’t need to know they were given 14 days to pay. This is standard.

Generally I’ve been impressed by the intros I have seen. They’ve picked out the best detail.

Short-ish sentences, please! If they go on for more than a couple of lines, see if you can split them into two sentences.

Short paragraphs please! The BBC says one sentence per paragraph. Other media aren’t so strict. But a paragraph of four of five sentences definitely needs breaking up.


I’m seeing a lot of sloppy punctuation, and poor writing style – especially dates being written incorrectly. At the very least check the “quick tips” section at the top of the writing style guide I’ve posted, here: https://m42mc.wordpress.com/court-writing-guide/

Quotes are introduced with a colon before the quote marks, unless it’s a fragment of a quote within the flow of a sentence. As in, Mr Jones said: “Quote.” 


I’ve seen, or been asked about, a number of ethics stories that aren’t about the ethical dimension of the subject being written about. And some that weren’t about media ethics at all.

An example was a story that highlighted inaccuracies in a reporter’s actions, but didn’t say that this would have breached section 1 of the Editors’ Code, or the Ofcom code. The story has to be about something that raises an ethical issue, but to get good marks, you have to write about the ethical dimension.

Here’s what the learning outcomes say you need to include on the ethics story:

Research: Evidence of background research into the subject. Specifically, you should cite relevant sections of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, the Ofcom Code or the BBC Editorial Guidelines, and if relevant, the Editor’s Code.

By “ethics”, we mean media ethics – not the ethics of politicians, or film stars, or whoever. It probably helps if you think of “media ethics” as “media regulation”: the Editors’ Code or the Broadcasting Code.

So don’t write about whether it’s ethical for sex-abusing bosses to silence people with gagging agreements.

You’re on the safest ground if you report on a case in which Ofcom or Ipso has made a ruling, because experts will have considered which parts of the ethical codes apply, and which don’t.

But if you write about an issue that’s led to debate about media ethics, you can still bring in what the codes say.

You are not writing an opinion piece: don’t say what you think, but say what how the codes relate to a situation, and maybe quote commentators.

Warning: I now see my two-way template misses out a question about what the broadcaster/publisher said in its defence. This should be included.


You must mention whichever code applies. Editors’ Code for print and online, Ofcom Broadcasting Code for… guess what! If neither code applies (say, because it’s social media, or overseas), then say so, but suggest what aspects of those codes would be relevant if they did apply.


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