Many cheers for Kim Fletcher who devotes the On the press column in today’s Media Guardian to praise of the sub-editor. He looks at the idea that the media world is now all about reporters and finds it wanting.
What you tend not to hear from writing journalists is praise for colleagues who can synthesise copy, pictures and headlines to create compelling pages; direct a reader’s eye with clever design; take information from diverse sources and turn it into a clear narrative. What you will never hear from journalists is that their copy is frequently ungrammatical, sometimes barely literate, usually over-written and typically misspelled. There are many writers who have won awards for the cleverness of their subs and few who have not been rescued from disaster by them.
For that reason it is impossible to conceive a new-media world that does not offer a powerful role for subeditors. They have the opportunity to reinvent themselves, being perfectly qualified to embrace the multi-tasking that everyone says is the future. Who else, for instance, is going to take a piece of journalism – let us hold out against that grim word “content” – and repurpose it for the different platforms the world envisages? Here it is at newspaper length, this is the mobile phone version, it runs like this on the website and we can edit it – so – for the podcast and broadcast bulletin. Oh, and here are the pictures, cropped several different ways, and a piece of video.
If we expect the reporters to do all that, they are not going to have time to find anything out. And, without the benefit of a second pair of eyes on their material, they are not going to produce work of the professional standard that is required. In a world where media organisations that are “trusted” will succeed, that would be a disaster.
As a reporter I have often cursed subs for changing the meaning of something. On reflection what I wrote was usually unclear. Other times I have read a piece in the paper and thought: “Didn’t I write that well.” Then, on closer inspection, comes a realisation that the sub has subtly made changes, removed spelling and grammatical errors. Mostly, I have forgotten to thank the sub and enjoyed the praise for a “good story”.
I have argued that blogging is not journalism because there is no editorial process, with editors questioning and subs adjusting. That is why applying the term “citizen journalist” to bloggers, in general, is wrong. Wordblog is not journalism.
But sometimes I do ask my wife to sub a piece before posting. Lesley joined the Guardian in the days of hot metal as a features sub and maintains that careful eye on copy. She has taken to emailing and texting me pointing out mistakes. Repetitions of words, the “the the” problem, someone’s name wrongly spelled and all the other things subs spot.
Yes, everyone needs a sub. This piece has not been subbed and it probably shows.