Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

An incensed viewer wrote to our local paper recently referring to 'uneducated television reporters'. He was complaining about the standard of English these days. The BBC hears similar complaints about its reporters, regularly. Their lapses highlight the a key difference between spoken and written English.

Television reporters are certainly not uneducated.

It's many years since I was one, but even then, double degrees and post-graduate diplomas were common. One of my colleagues had degrees in maths, physics and journalism, others in geography, law and English. Another had a masters degree with first-class honours in psychology and now has a senior post at our university. These days, television journalists tend to be the top graduates with journalism and communication degrees. It's always been a competitive business.

So why don't they speak proper?

Usually, they do, but let's cut them some slack. They are using conversational English, frequently live, into a camera to an audience of up to 800,000. Most people would be so terrified we'd be lucky to hear any sound at all. Sometimes the journalists' ad-libbing isn't perfect. It's the same for us.

In conversation, we make mistakes of grammar and syntax. Our sentences are frequently passive and clumsy. Our audience gets the first draft. Conversation makes a useful model for business writing, but we usually need to add some polish.

Call me a bit defensive, but there's something else about television reporting...

The job involves absorbing new information very quickly on topics that may be well outside the reporters' expertise. Often that information is complex and technical. They have to pick out the main points and explain it to an audience that may have no background knowledge. They must do it an engaging way, in plain English.

That's a remarkable skill. Let's admire it.


Interested in a workshop on business writing for your team? Contact us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We'll put you in touch with a trainer, not a salesperson.

About Ralph Brown

ralph brown blog3

Ralph is our founder and managing director. He has a background in psychology, television journalism and business.

Ralph's passions are psychology and writing. He leads workshops on both and speaks to conferences on the psychology of thriving at work.

In 2011  Professional Speakers Australia awarded him its top speaking accreditation, the CSP.

He has written six books and more than a hundred articles on psychology and writing. International research journals have published his articles reviewing the research on resilience.

Ralph enjoys trips to France. He lives in rural Canterbury.

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