Press Gazette style guide (includes advice on off the record, show don't tell and our banned list)

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A hack is a person who produces “mediocre literary or journalistic work…a drudge”, according to the Collins dictionary. That’s why you won’t find one in the pages of Press Gazette as a synonym for journalist.

Find out what other words are banned from Press Gazette, why we believe in ‘show don’t tell’ and what we mean by ‘off the record’ in this, our style guide. It’s been put together mainly for internal use, but hopefully others may also find it useful.

It is a work in progress. Readers are invited to pick holes in it and suggest changes. It may well be that stories from our archive do not adhere rigidly to it. Our intention is to follow it more closely in future. Please suggest any changes or additions via the comments below, or email dominicp@pressgazette.co.uk.

Thanks to colleagues at the New Statesman, who let us draw on their style guide, and to the late Keith Waterhouse whose book: Keith Waterhouse on Newspaper Style is, even in the digital age, still the best work on this subject.

Other useful journalism style guides are available via these links:

The Guardian

The Economist

Reuters

Associated Press

The Telegraph

Financial Times Lexicon

BBC News

The UK Government Digital Service

ABBREVIATIONS

Abbreviations, contractions and acronyms do not take full points (so use “eg”, “etc” and “ie”).

Spell out the names of organisations in full in the first instance: National Union of Journalists, then NUJ; Independent Press Standards Organisation, then IPSO.

ACCENTS AND FOREIGN WORDS AND PHRASES

Use accents consistently in foreign words and names.

Commonly used words and phrases go in Roman type (with accents where necessary): ad lib, angst, avant-garde, cliché, coup, crudité, en masse, en route, et al, kitsch, pro rata, realpolitik.

When using phrases where there are two spellings that correspond to gender, always use the version that denotes the correct gender. So, fiancé(e), protégé(e), alumnus/alumna, doyen (ne)

Use correct plurals, eg, bureaux, cadeaux, chateaux

ATTRIBUTION

All facts which we are not absolutely certain to be true should be attributed – with links where possible. Even if this is to “a well-placed source”. Never make statements of fact without attribution unless we know for certain that they are true. ie We know the sky is blue, by looking out of the window. But the news that rain is on the way needs to be attributed to the Met Office (with a link through to the relevant part of their website).

When covering surveys, legal judgments and reports – always link through to the full report where possible.

Taking possibly disputable facts from other sources without attribution is plagiarism, and also dangerous – because if challenged we will not be able to explain where they have come from.

BULLET POINTS

The style for bullet points is as follows:

  • First item on list
  • second item on list
  • third item on list
  • and so on
  • to the last one.

So we treat the bullet itself as the puncuation between each item.

COLLECTIVE NOUNS

We treat collective nouns, corporate bodies and institutions (such as the government, unions, Labour, any company) as singular — thus, “Marks & Spencer is well known”.

NB: Political parties are singular (for example, “the Conservative Party is”, “the Labour Party is” and “Labour is”) but “the Lib Dems are”, “the Tories are” and “the Conservatives are”.

DATES

Our date style is “Thursday 3 April 1997”, “3 April 1997” and “the 3 April election” (no commas). For a range of dates in copy use “15-20 November 2007”.

Write “the 1970s” (no apostrophe), not “Seventies” or “70s” (with or without the apostrophe).

Please use “1995-96”, not “1995-6” or “1995/96”. But note “2001-2002” (and not “2001-2” or “2001-02”); “1001-1010” (and not “1001-10”); “644-645” (and not “644-5” or “644-45”).

ITALICS AND CAPITALISED WORDS

Avoid italics for emphasis in text except where absolutely necessary.

Avoid using capital letters for emphasis except where absolutely necessary.

LOCATION

Do not assume everyone knows that a location is in London. Spell it out. So, for example, “Camden, north London”.

NUMBERS

Numbers one to ten are spelled out. Use figures for 11 upwards; the exceptions to this rule are “eleven-plus” (as in exam) and vague approximations (“about a hundred people”, “roughly a dozen books”, “a couple of thousand”, “about three hundred”, “a hundred years ago” (unless the writer means exactly “100 years”). Ages follow the same rule, but please refer to someone in their “twenties”, “sixties”, and so on.

Ordinals are spelled out from “first” to “tenth”; use figures from 11th upwards. An exception, however, is “at the eleventh hour”.

Spell out in words when the text refers to “part one”, or “chapter seven”. However, with page numbers, write “page 7”; but refer to a “Page Three girl”.

Spell out numerals at the start of a sentence, or avoid having them at the beginning of the sentence (where, for example the figure is a year). Use figures when combined with units, as in “5mm” and “1p”. Also use numerals with “per cent” and percentage points — thus, “6 per cent” (never 6%, except in tables and sidebars).

In percentages, decimalise fractions when the result is simple (so use 3.5 or 3.25), but avoid complicated fractions (3.33 or 3.167) — round up wherever possible to the nearest single decimal (3.3 and 3.2), unless you need precise figures and the alternative confuses the point.

Familiar fractions (“two-thirds”, “half”, “quarter”) may be spelled out, eg, “three and a half”. In a series, say “five to 13 years”, “14 to 16”, or (even better) “between 14 and 16”.

Use commas in figures of more than three digits: “1,000”, “10,000”.

“First”, “second” and “third”, not “firstly”, “secondly” and “thirdly”.

Age: “a six-year-old girl”, “a six-year-old”, “she was six years old”.

Currency: Abbreviate million and billion (note that there is no final “s” on either, and “billion” is used in the international sense of a thousand million, not the old English million million). Thus “£5m” and “£4bn”. Decimalise, as in “£1.5m”, and not “£1½ million” or “£1,500,000”. “A$” for Australian dollars, “¥” for Japanese yen and “€” where this is available on your keyboard or character map.

Time: Use the 12-hour clock and figures with “am” and “pm” closed up, eg, “4am”, “7pm” and “12.30pm”, but “12 noon”, “12 midnight”.

OFF THE RECORD

Often sources want to speak to us on an “off the record basis”. Before publishing any information based on such interviews, clarify exactly what the terms are under which that information can be used. ie Is it shared on a confidential basis? If so then we are agreeing to keep it secret until such time that the source agrees to go public. If it is shared on a background basis, that means we can use the information but without any quotes or attribution (something we should only do if we are certain it is correct). It may be that we can quote the source, but without naming them – if so clarify exactly how they are comfortable to be described: “a company source”, “a well-placed source”, “a source close to”…etc.

PER CENT

Is spelled out except if space needed for headline (especially online).

Always use numbers rather than words in front of per cent though.

Thus: 3 per cent

PUNCTUATION

Apostrophes: Where a name or proper noun ends in “s” use ’s to denote possession, eg, “Tom Jones’s book”.

Commas: Please use these sparingly. Where the order of a sentence is clear, you may dispense with them: “She thought about it and then decided to send her a letter.” Use commas rather than dashes where possible.

Colons/semi-colons: “Whereas the semicolon links equal or balanced clauses, the colon generally marks a step forward, from introduction to main theme, from cause to effect, premise to conclusion.” (Hart’s Rules; our emphasis)

So “Always remember before you cross a road: look both ways.”

And “The proposals he put forward were: to seize all available copies of the magazine, whether from newsagents or from warehouses; to pulp them; to sue the printers; and to start all over again.”

Semi-colons to be avoided if possible, certainly when it comes to news stories.

Hyphenation and dashes: Hyphenate nouns when used as compound adjectives: “three-year course”, “part-time job”, “short-term trend”, “middle-class woman” (but “the middle class” and “the working classes”). Can be triple-barrelled (“on-the-job training”) or even longer, though these should be avoided if possible. Please keep hyphenation to the minimum. Thus, “trade union source” and not “trade-union source”, “public school boy” and not “public-school boy”, “opposition party reports” and not “opposition-party reports”.

Do not hyphenate adverbial phrases – that is to say, when words end in “-ly”, as in “a beautifully furnished house”.

Quotations: Use double quotation marks (single marks for quotations within quotations). Use square brackets [ ] for an editorial addition to a quotation. Use an ellipsis ( . . . ) for an omission from a quotation.

Where a complete sentence is quoted, put the full-stop inside the quotation marks. Where a partial sentence is quoted, the stop should be outside the quote marks.

a) “This house style has caused much consternation,” they said.

b) “Much consternation,” they said, “has been caused by this house style.”

c) According to them, this house style “is very simple”.

d) They said: “This house style is very simple.”

e) They said this house style was “very simple”.

f) “Why do we have to make it ‘simple’?” they asked.

g) “Because it has to be ‘simple’,” she said.

h) “What the man told me,” said Smith, “was quite simple: ?Much consternation has been caused by this house style.’”

SHOW DON’T TELL

Numbers and amounts don’t stagger, we don’t need to tell readers that things are shocking, stunning, surprising, extraordinary, etc. Speakers in quotes can do that. Otherwise please let the facts and the story speak for itself, certainly in news at any rate.

Don’t say “only” six out of ten journalists will keep their jobs, or “just” six out of ten journalists will keep their jobs. Again, let the facts speak for themselves.

THAT/WHICH

Generally, we prefer “that” but use “which” after a comma.

“This is the house that Jack built.”

“The house, which Jack built, is covered in stucco.”

TITLES AND NAMES

Avoid using Ms, Miss, Mr, Mrs, Dr and so on. Forename and surname at the first mention. Thereafter use the surname only.

We favour: Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre said:

Rather than – Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, said:

Or: Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, said:

UPPER AND LOWER CASE

Acts and bills: Use caps when referring to a specific act or bill title. So, for example, “Mental Health Act 1967”, but “the act”, “the bill”, “white paper”, “green paper” and so on.

Books, magazines and newspapers: no italics.

Brand names take initial caps — Biro, Sellotape, Hoover — but where possible use alternatives: ballpoint pen, adhesive tape, vacuum cleaner.

Degree classifications take upper case: First, (Upper) Second, Third, etc.

Empires: these take lower case, as in “British empire”, “Roman empire”, etc.

East End, West End – but west of London and east of London. Similarly the North East, the South – but south England, north-east England.

Government: all governments are lower case, except the current UK Government; so are the “opposition”, “cabinet” and “parliament” (but “Houses of Parliament”, “the House”, “House of Commons”). Write “European Parliament”, “European Commission”, “European Union”, “Scottish Parliament” and “National Assembly for Wales” or “Welsh Assembly”.

Use upper case for select committees when using the full title (thus “the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee”). For the US, only “Senate”,“House of Representatives” and “Congress” are capped (but “senator” and “congressman/congresswoman”, except where used as part of a name such as “Congressman John Boehner”). “Crown-in-Parliament” as a phrase is upper case.

But in shortened form lower case for committees – such as the Commons media select committee.

British government departments: Department for Ministry of Whatever: as in “Department for Education”. Thereafter “the department” or “the DfE”, “DfID”. Write “the Treasury”. However, note the “civil service” and “civil servant”.

Foreign government departments: These take lower case (“the Jordanian ministry of foreign affairs” and “the US state department”).

Government ministers: Serving members of cabinet and current senior British government officials take upper case — “Prime Minister”, “Chancellor of the Exchequer” (or “Chancellor” for short), “Home Secretary”, “Lord Chief Justice” and “Work and Pensions Secretary”. Refer in the first instance to senior ministers as “the Secretary of State for Defence” or “the Defence Secretary”; thereafter use “the minister”.

Junior ministers and all members of shadow cabinets take lower case, as do members of foreign governments. Use “Prime Minister” or “President” with caps when immediately preceding a name and not preceded by an article: “President Sarkozy” and “Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi” (but otherwise “the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy”, “the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi”. Past holders of cabinet posts take lower case: ie, “the former prime minister John Major”.

Job titles: These are generally lower case, ie, “the BBC director general”, “chief executive”, and so on.

Seasons take lower case — “spring” and “summer”.

Wars: “First World War”, “Second World War” and “Great War” thus. Note, however, that these generally take lower case, so: “Vietnam war”, “cold war”, “war on terror” and “Iraq war”.

WORDS TO WATCH OUT FOR

adviser – not advisor

alright – not allright

bi-monthly – twice a month, or six times a year? Please specify

crowdfunded [one word]

defuse (as in the situation, rather than diffuse)

discreet – subtle

discrete – separate

dispatch, not despatch

email

fewer – can be counted

focused

inquiry – not enquiry

internet – rather than Internet

judgment (not judgement) for legal cases

Kelvin MacKenzie – but his brother, weirdly, is Colin Mackenzie

less – cannot be counted

newsdesk

newsroom

newsstand

newsgathering

no one

okay – not OK

Page Three

Prophet Muhammad

byline – rather than by-line

sceptic (not skeptic)

sub-editor

tabloid (rather than compact)

website – rather than web site

whistle-blower

THE BANNED LIST

cancer battles

cheating death

CEO – chief executive please, or chief exec

delighted – as in: “I’m delighted to announce that Joe Bloggs is my new editor.”

extraordinary

got

hack (when used as a synonym for journalist)

hits out (sometimes unavoidable in headlines though)

mystery surrounds (don’t start a story by telling the readers what we don’t know)

raft (unless it floats)

really

Revealed: (As a headline kicker. May be acceptable in print to make a line fit – but online, surely all news stories should be revealing something)

recently

very

slams (unless for doors)

NAMES OF NEWSPAPERS

As they appear on the mastead – except when used in quotes.

Daily Express

Daily Mail

Daily Mirror

Daily Record Daily Star

Daily Star Sunday

Financial Times

The Independent on Sunday

News of the World

Racing Post

Scotland on Sunday

Sunday Express

Sunday Herald

Sunday Mail

Sunday Mirror

Sunday People

Sunday Post

The Daily Telegraph

The Guardian

The Herald

The Independent

The Observer

The Scotsman

The Sun

The Sun on Sunday

The Sunday Telegraph

The Sunday Times

The Times

The Mail on Sunday

NAMES OF TV AND RADIO STATIONS

Channel 4

BBC One, Two, Three, Four

ITV1, ITV2, ITV3

Radio 5 Live

Comments

1 thought on “Press Gazette style guide (includes advice on off the record, show don't tell and our banned list)”

  1. However, “Hack” is THE accurate word for most of the people you describe in your shrinking empire, possibly (judging by the grammar and syntax you use) including your good selves.

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