Freelance Round-up: This month in writing

25 commandments for journalists

Whether you’re thinking of becoming a journalist or you’ve been in the industry for years, these “commandments” set out by Tim Radford, former editor of various sections at the Guardian, are bound to come in handy as a brand new lesson or a timely reminder. 

Radford originally created the commandments when he was asked to give some media training and comments: “I began compiling them because I had just asked myself what was the most important thing to remember about writing a story, and the answer came back loud and clear: ‘To make somebody read it’."

The commandments include: If in doubt, assume the reader knows nothing”, “Beware of long and preposterous words” and "Metaphors are great. Just don't choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them.”

Find out how many of the 25 commandments for journalists you abide by and how many you’re breaking.

Unnecessary “quotes”

For many editors and writers, nothing gets the blood pumping like dodgy spelling and grammar. If that sounds like you, this brilliant blog will have you giggling as well as chuntering. The Blog of Unnecessary Quotes plunges you into a world where nothing is what it seems and everything has a sinister undertone. You’ll find suits that promise you’ll “make a ‘killer’ first impression” and “big ‘fresh’ seafood platters”. Mmmmmm ‘fresh’.

Useful tools for freelancers

Over on CreativeBoom, Katy Cowan rounds up 43 useful websites and tools for freelancers . The list includes learning resources, blogs to follow, project and time management tools, legal resources and good places to find freelance work. Great to see FreelanceUK listed in there as a useful resource.

This post is one you’re likely to bookmark and go back to time and time again.

Site launched to flag up ‘churnalism’

A new website – - has been launched by the Media Standards Trust, aiming to help people distinguish ‘churnalism’ from real journalism.

‘Churnalism’ is defined as a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added. In his book, Flat Earth News, Nick Davies wrote how ‘churnalism’ is produced by: “Journalists who are no longer gathering news but are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false”.

Users can paste in the text from a press release and run a search which compares it to articles published by any national newspaper website, the BBC or Sky News since 2007. They’ll be able to see the percentage of the press release cut and pasted into news articles, and the number of characters that overlap, as well as compare the press release with an image of the article, showing which bits have been copied

The Guardian reports that film-maker Chris Atkins tricked news outlets into running a fake story about Downing Street's new cat to coincide with the site's launch. The director who made Starsuckers created a Facebook page in the name of a made-up character, "Tim Sutcliffe", who claimed the cat – which came from Battersea Cats Home – had belonged to his aunt Margaret.

The story appeared in publications such as the BBC, the Daily Mail and Metro and on Radio Norfolk. You can find out more about the stunt on the Starsuckers YouTube page.

Google clamps down on low quality content

Google has announced that it is clamping down on sites with “shallow” and “low quality” content which are getting high rankings and pushing useful sites further down the search results. Google has launched a new algorithm to do this. In a statement the company said: “ Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on.

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Google is launching the new algorithm in America to begin with but plans to roll it out elsewhere in time.

Many commentators have said that the move is rightly targeting content farms. In an interview with, Google’s Matt Cutts declined to comment directly on this but said: “I think people will get the idea of the types of sites we’re talking about.”


Sarah Wray


3rd March 2011

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