Well, the end is nigh – both for this RIP Sub-editing series and for my sub-editing career. It is fond farewell time. In this final post, the technology changes again but this time it is taking no prisoners and I ask myself, ‘Do I miss my old job?’ For those on a catch-up, here is RIP subbing part one and RIP subbing part two.
It’s just a series of tubes
In 1995 I went into something called an internet café. It was on Cleveland St in London, and there were computers set up all around the windows. I ‘dialled up’ the internet though I had no idea what that actually meant. Little did I know then that the internet is just a series of tubes! ;)
Google didn’t exist but Hotmail did. Hello email!
Apart from being able to email chief subs with a CV, the nature of subbing changed little in the 1990s. The World Wide Web was over there, work was over here. But it was coming. And in the summer of 2000, my own work life went online.
The journalists are revolting
Personally I was quite keen to join the online revolution, thanks to Matthew Broderick (see why in part one). So I applied for online work.
After a brief spell as Commissioning Editor with Moonpig.com during the dot.com bubble, I realised my heart lay in producing editorial content not commercial greeting cards. (Though really I can’t understand why I’m not personally thanked in How They Started In Tough Times. I’m sure my two months there in May/June 2000 was crucial!)
My first online subbing job was at Freeserve women’s channel – then called icircle.com (now part of Orange). Only I was called a web producer not a sub. It was great. The Web was a modern-day leveller with web editors and producer seen as equally valuable. No more bitchy magazine or newspaper hierarchy.
The software was clunky, though. CHAS, Spectrum and other weirdly named content management systems became the bane of my work life. Work was all about ‘wanking the computer’ rather than mad editing skillz. The database set-up meant endless copying and pasting into little boxes – aka shelf-stacking. It really was dull, dull work.
But the ‘Publish’ button at the bottom was nothing less than astounding – no printing presses or repro houses, just one click and there it was up on site. Unfortunately, working a CMS was not only a bore but a health risk – and my RSI returned.
For fluff’s sake: the rise of client publishing
So I went back to less-frenetic, more refined print in 2002 (while also having fun with Facebook’s predecessors of Friendster and MySpace in my spare time). Print software was faster and more intuitive, and the work was more creative than web-style plain titles, metatag lists and easy-scan copy structure.
Even then, it was 100% employment as a freelance sub. But the best paid work started coming from client publishers through an explosion in contract publishing. Their rates beat even the biggest consumer glossies, so work changed again. Subbing now had to factor in client changes, and arguments arose over their bad grammar and vague, fluffy marketing blurbs.
In 2003/4, InDesign arrived on magazines, kicking QuarkXpress (mostly) into the software dustbin of history.
I got a website – and you don’t have one!
In 2005, web software was also getting smarter. So I got a website, created in DreamWeaver by a friend who was a graphic designer.
It seemed so slick, featuring a world map that readers could click on and interact with to see examples of my travel writing. It seemed to get me more work, too. No more emailed CV to post or download, I just sent a link and introductory paragraph to the chief sub over email. Why trawl through pages of a stiff CV when you can quickly scan a friendly online resumé?
Little did I know that static personal websites were going to be passé within just two years.
Ditch the website, get a blog!
It was around this time that I started getting more writing work. Subbing still made up the bulk of the work but no longer the whole of it. Over time, more creative was needed by the clients, which meant more writing. The subbing-writing balance shifted with the client’s needs.
Meanwhile, Web 2.0 was getting into full swing. In 2007 I wrote three personal blogs – all one-offs and with small, definite audiences in mind. But digital was hotting up as free blog platforms like Blogspot and WordPress broke down the tech barriers to set-up.
Pardon my personal digital explosion
And so, in the downtime of the magazine subs desk, I started blogging. The two blogs I started in 2008 were free WordPress templates, designed to reach a wider audience: there was this one for sub-editors and a travel dress codes blog at What To Wear Where.
I also started several Nings (themed social networks), just y’know because it was there and it was easy, and was asked to kick off a wiki online style guide for sub-editors via a tweet from the head of Journalism.co.uk on Twitter.
I joined everything from Google Reader to Delicious bookmarks to Guardian Soulmates. I became a DJ on my own Blip.fm radio station. I uploaded photos to Flickr and went on real-life Flickr meets, blending the virtual world into the real one. I live-tweeted a Birmingham council event on Twitter – I couldn’t believe I was being paid to update the news in real time.
You mean you’ll pay me to Tweet?
All this online activity was leading somewhere. I’d work in print by day then go home and play online all night. So it was a relief when, in January 2009, I became a full-time web editor and could do the fun stuff from 9-5, rather than the other way round. I landed the job in that most modern Web 2.0 way: via a friend in a pub messaging a photo and a testimonial on his new iPhone to the head of digital’s iPhone at Seven Squared.
[Aside: I rarely get work the traditional way anymore, ie, through chief sub contacts and subbing colleagues. Mostly they come from Twitter connections and social networking or by meeting up at social media events.]
The big question: Do I miss subbing?
To be honest, although I love copy editing work, I love online content more. So I have to say no, I don’t really miss it. I do miss the subs desk and the people on it.
But sub-editing itself feels kind of one-dimensional now. A singular task of production whereas ‘whatever my new job title is’ involves creating content including text, audio, visual, writing, editing, social media marketing, SEO, brainstorming new ideas and experimenting with new tools.
In some ways I wanted to write down and pay homage to my many years as a non-techie print sub because they are now pretty much over and I feel nostalgia for them. In 2010 my subbing days feel a very long way away.
How easy is it to transfer skills to online?
Well, it’s an ongoing process, a learning curve and quite a career swerve. After years of knowing exactly what I’m doing, it’s kind of freeing to go back to basics, and be able to play and make mistakes and learn new stuff again.
It also feels good to be in a medium that is expanding rather than in print media, which is contracting. There is a positive vibe that is no longer there for me in print and the future seems more certain here as budgets move online. It is also busier than ever. And once again something of an RSI risk.
Tech is changing so fast, how to keep up?
Well, right now, I’m on a train pulling into New Orleans [note: or I was when I was writing this], on a railroad trip to SXSW Interactive festival – the world’s premier web conference – in Austin, Texas.
In the next week, I’ll undergo a five-day download of information and expertise from the world’s leading digital thinkers and practitioners. Next stop for me in keeping up my skills is moving towards content strategy as well as content creation. Curation also interests me. And video work. And possibly passing on this knowledge to others.
But enough already. At 2,500-plus words here, I’m sure no one’s even got this far so it’s time for me either to wind up or ask a sub-editor to cut the crap out of this behemoth. If anyone has any questions about how to make the jump to online, or anything about subbing itself, then feel free to get in contact.
Future posts will undoubtedly be shorter, less rambling, less punny, more SEO-friendly… in other words, normal online service will resume shortly.
R.I.P Sub-editing 1987-2008