Are sub-editors a dying breed of journalist?

When I started my journalism degree we were taught shorthand and, to my dismay, most of the class hated it, helping push its removal in the questionable course redesign. In its place, search engine optimisation, infographic design, and correct social media use are taught, and specialist lecturers pop in more and more often to teach the new Twitter location-finder reporting app activated by Google+ through your Facebook LinkedIn app to find your target audience’s favourite cats.

And yet, with this next generation of writers with their knowledge of all things shiny and new, some papers have decided to trim back or completely sever off sub-editors, like an unnecessary appendage. With journalism becoming an ever popular career choice (“You just write stuff down and get paid to be rude, right?”) and more people focusing on the above hoo-hah, who will filter out the crap that sneaks its way past busy editors’ eyes? This question is hardly breaking news; Roy Greenslade’s blog was talking about this in 2009.

Perhaps the importance of subs is being lost, and editors and reporters believe their jobs can be done by others easily. Copy editor John McIntrye wrote this on the menial tasks done by subs and copy editors. That all looks easy, right? I’m sure all those jobs can be done by the editor, reporters, and coffee-carrying interns.

Either way, papers are increasingly cutting down on or simply kicking out subs. So what of the freelancers? I asked Cathy Relf, a freelance sub-editor, if “the sub-editor” was dead: “Great writing will always needs subs. You can’t sub your own work. I’m a full-time sub and I can’t sub my own work. It’s possible for journalists to proofread one another’s work in a spare moment, but it’ll never be to the same standard that someone who is employed purely for that purpose would do it.”

“I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that readers care less about great writing now than they once did, in certain media. Look at the Mail Online; hugely popular, and it’s full of errors and just plain bad writing. But it’s making money. People read all kinds of things now where the standard of writing is lower – but they don’t mind, because they see it more as a passing stream of disposable news than a single, respected authority to be read with care at the breakfast table, perhaps cut out and kept for later.”

“The sub-editor isn’t dead, but the role has changed, and continues to change, significantly.”

On the way that news and media is adapting to the ever-expanding options provided by computers and the internet, I agree that people don’t seem to care that much about the quality of the writing – just look at the popularity of housewife blogs and their dominion over Pinterest. But I think that regular users of the internet will remain vigilant on correct grammar and spelling, and the survival of the noble sub, despite the influx of poorly-schooled adults and teens alike protesting that “ur a nerd if u liek gramer” (oh, that was painful).

Long live the sub-editor!


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