‘I would not become a sub-editor now…

… The future for sub-editing is bleak,’ said Justin Williams, assistant editor of the Telegraph, at the NMK ‘What happens to newspapers?’ event. [Full story here.]

The reason? Because The Telegraph is trialling a post-moderated sub-editing system online in which reporters publish directly to the online edition and await moderation.

Whether moderation is by users via comments or subs direct into the story isn’t clear (to me anyway). But what is noted is that ‘[The future] will not be about the interminable multi-staged editing process’.

Williams notes instead a trend towards content generation (a theme visited in earlier posts as subs are shifted into multi-tasking).

But while newspapers have a brand and quality to protect, they are likely to suffer an amateurisation in the quality of their content through the publish-then-filter model. While this may be acceptable in a fast-paced news environment, which can be corrected over time in a rolling news story, the model could be dangerous for certain topics areas (eg, medical stories), but also for client magazines and websites with a brand to protect.

I don’t agree that the production process has to be ‘interminable’ but a second pair of eyes at least should be in place. Once it’s out there, wrong information goes to RSS almost immediately and an edit even a minute later won’t appear. As a writer I’d be very wary of sending in work without at least some kind of checks in place.

As for client-branded media, they may risk their good name and trusted reputation if they follow The Telegraph‘s lead.

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2 responses to “‘I would not become a sub-editor now…

  1. Having been in journalism since the age of 17 and worked as a sub editor and subsequently as an editor in the local weekly paper sector since the age of 19 I guess I’ve seen it all.

    I’ve always made sure I’ve been in the vanguard of change from hot metal days and it has been a great ride. Clearly then I’m no Luddite, but what’s happening now is deeply worrying.

    The profession is convulsing under some pretty savage cuts just now and a lot of it is revolving around subs. The multi-media module and web first strategies are the way ahead – but we have reporters uploading raw copy to the web.

    Many of them are trainees and the quality of a lot of the writing is not only awful, but clearly leaves a gaping holes in areas such as legality and factual correctness.

    We may await moderation from our online readers via the comments section, but in the process it leaves us open to scathing ridicule (also via the comments section) and damages our profession and brand (we use to call it ‘newspaper’ in the ‘old’ days) along the way.

    It’s not so much an issue of ‘I would not become a sub-editor now..’ but more one of ‘You won’t be able to become a sub-editor now’ with the role becoming redundant.

    You wonder what the likes of Hugh Cudlipp would make of it all.

  2. Cadmus, I know what you mean when you say you’ve surfed the changes – so far. I started out casting off characters and flicking paperballs off my typescale. And I don’t even consider myself that old!

    Fortunately, I also love engaging with new technology and generally I’m glad to have been born in the age of the interwebs. But for our ‘profession’, it is less a change and more a potential extinction-level event.

    I think the title of sub-editor will prob become redundant as roles and tasks change. And also as reader expectation changes – in the long run, they may learn to be happy with the amateurisation you’re talking about and to suspect inaccuracies in published content. But for now old-school expectations (and libel laws) still expect that the copy is basically correct.

    Post printing press there was 100 years of chaos and turmoil before mass communication settled down to a new model.

    In the meantime, I think subs are going to have to roll with the punches without knowing quite how to fight back.

    Re comments and moderation: And when you solicit ‘moderating’ comments in advance, you risk being accused of ‘lazy journalism’ – as Jay Rayner at the Guardian was here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2008/oct/04/gmcrops

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