Category Archives: Digital publishing

Two excellent reads on the changing nature of sub-editing

Both of these were spotted by Richard Cosgrove on the Subs UK forum:

Copy editing: It’s taught me a lot, but it has to change
Over in the US, Steve Buttry has some advice for copy editors seeking to contribute to Digital First newsrooms and some copy editing tips for all journalists.

The corrections column co-editor on… the changing role of the subeditor

On the Guardian site, Barbara Harper writes about the news skills subs need to learn and their competition from new applicants who are technically adept but without the sub-editing training. She says:

A subeditor preparing an article for our website will, among other things, be expected to write headlines that are optimised for search engines so the article can be easily seen online, add keywords to make sure it appears in the right places on the website, create packages to direct readers to related articles, embed links, attach pictures, add videos and think about how the article will look when it is accessed on mobile phones and other digital platforms.

After running the digital skills workshop for subs (slides are here) last weekend, I feel happy that I have directed them with up-to-date guidelines for online sub-editing. I don’t work on newspaper online sites so I did wonder if they face different or more discrete tasks. But it seems we are all in this together and that a standard role may be forming. For now, at least.

Does anyone else find it ironic that subs can’t agree a style on their job title by the way? Sub-editor or subeditor? And let’s not even get started with why proofreading doesn’t get a hyphen…

Online editing and digital skills for print subs

Fiona Cullinan presenting to attendees

Photo by Pete Ashton /

I did a workshop!
On Saturday I delivered my first-ever workshop to a group of London-based freelance sub-editors. The framework was a practical walk-through of online editing using a content management system, with theory on SEO, tone, style, structure, length, linking, accessibility and user-friendliness. Some wider web editing skills were touched on – such as picture research and manipulation, video embeds and post-publishing work.

I’ve blogged about the workshop here: Helping print sub-editors go digital.

I’d also like to thank the Centre for Creative Collaboration for hosting us – it’s a great venue for project involving collaboration, creativity, innovation and freelance creatives.

Want to join in?
There may be a second run of the beginners workshop – although it may be a longer or two-part workshop to fit everything in. We’re also looking at putting together a follow-up session on work and how to get it. And perhaps something on the more techy side of things and the wider internet culture, as this is what Pete Ashton is the bee’s knees at teaching. So if any subs out there are interested in any of these options, please get in touch – I’m at

Online sub-editing slideshow
Meanwhile, here are my slides from Saturday’s workshop. They’re pretty much notes without the talk-through or the practical CMS/workshop stuff – but you get the idea:

When jargon, slang and waffle is OK to leave in

This TES article on writing vs sub-editing came to me via the Twitters this week: a rather nice piece written in 1996 by Lynne Truss, called No jokes please, we edit. Anyone who’s crossed the writer-sub rubicon will find truth on both sides. For example:

The writers pained at being subbed:

Sub-editors change words, move jokes, cut sentences in the middle. And the irony is, they assume they are making improvements. I know this, because I was a sub-editor for 13 years and blithely rewrote some of the biggest brains in England. Now I am in the enemy camp, I feel quite sick at the recollection of former crimes.

But then how many more times do subs perform miracles on rambling, double-the-word-count, late-filed copy?

Writing journalism, the trouble is that nobody will tell you how it’s done; they simply rewrite you to fit the bill. When I handed in my first ever piece for publication, I expected a mark, lots of pointers in red ink, and a day’s grace to revise. Instead it was accepted, cut to fit, and printed.

Looking back, the classically trained sub can be a rigorous and rigid beast – they follow a set of rules taught on NTCJ or PTC courses, so it’s no wonder writers don’t understand all the edits. But there is usually a reason.  As a former chief sub of mine once said: “I can justify every single one of my changes – I just don’t have the time.”

But then the newspaper form is a rigid space, with a stylebook handed down through the ages. Online is more freeform. It requires very little copy-fitting and a whole lot more awareness of the writer’s ‘voice’. (Something which Lynne Truss says she was always trying to get past the subs, like a weed ‘pushing through a crack in the pavement’.)

This is throwing up some new challenges for the copy editor. For example, as I was planning a workshop for print subs on digital skills this week, I found myself updating some of those classic rules of sub-editing to reflect the less strict and changing publishing environment.

That’s partly because we now live in a very different world from 1996 when at least reporters understood that their copy would be hacked to fit or styled for the publication over the voice of the writer. Non-journalists hold very different expectations and, shock horror, are arguing back. Not so much about grammar and spelling but voice, tone and content. Bylined subject matter experts want personal sign-off on anything they put their name to on the web.

And perhaps that is fair enough. Especially on a blog, where a byline is synonymous with personal writing and voice (even a waffly one).

Publishing may be getting easier but sub-editing isn’t the straightforward profession it once was. When I tell a print sub not to bother about smart quotes or widows, for example, you can see their shock.

Or when I depart from the set style of titles in full first time followed by the acronym, to sprinkle variations throughout the copy, I’m sub-editing for Google.

Even worse, I’ve realised that there is a place for jargon or slang in order to edit the copy for SEO for a target audience that uses those words as search terms.

Next week, I’ll be trying to explain these new world anomalies and rationales to a group of print subs who are making the transition into online editing. Expect to hear the sound of foundations shaking.

(I hope this makes sense, it’s late, I’m tired, and really I just wanted to get Lynne Truss’s article out there but like a midnight rambler without a sub, I carried on, and on, and…)

Guardian’s “needs legalling” typo highlights trend for ‘verbing’ nouns

The dangers of typing a sub’s query into a text doc these days is that it doesn’t go through endless proofreads before a web ed presses publish, as this Guardian interview with Lynne Featherstone today shows. [Thanks to Andrew Stuart for the spot on Twitter.]

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Does any sub out there know of a workaround for this, apart from a thorough final read on the preview? Isn’t there some kind of app that can prevent you from publishing BEFORE queries are dealt with? (Developers, note: there should be!)

I checked just now and the typo has been removed from the browser – who reads the Guardian in the browser these days? – but it’s still there on my phone app, which downloaded at 3am.

The lesson here is that, once live, there is no recall in digital.

The article is instantly sent out to RSS feeds and soon downloaded via apps to iPads and mobile phones, cached by Google, etc. Copies are made – and the error is OUT THERE. Deleting the offender at source won’t cover you – the source has shifted, the nature of digital is to make copies.

Which is fine, you just need to understand the lay of the land.

But what did irk slightly was that the sub has turned a noun into a verb; legal into ‘legalling’. (In my print days, you’d ring the offending par on a printout and mark ‘legal?’ or ‘ch: legal’ next to it, then ring the lawyer.)

Why the sudden ‘verbing?’

The verb-to-noun trend was also a hot topic in my Twitterstream this week – or, to hammer home the point, it was ‘trending’. Here’s a flavour:

The tweets also linked to a couple of nice reads, which show the trend is partly down to the rise of new tech and the need to create words for all the new stuff:



The Verb: Why do we sound so dumb when we talk about communication? Maybe because our verbs aren’t really verbs.

I’m sure I do it, ahem, verbally, and as a joke, but not in the day job. What’s your take on this? Is ‘legalling’ just in-house jargon? Is ‘verbing’ part of the flux of a living language or just plain wrong?

Let me know. Until then, I’m off to de-border my flowerbed and then maybe do some Facebooking.

Why live blogging and curation offer a renaissance for subs and their art

Last week I discovered Andy Bull on Twitter. Andy is a former national newspaper journalist who went on to become editorial director of AOL UK and editor of The Times Online. Now a multimedia trainer, he’s been trying out the recent rack of curation tools to tell a story (here he is on Scoop.It; here I am on Bundlr).

Further conversations led me to ask Andy to write Subs’ Standards’ first guest blog. It’s a great read and will hopefully inspire sub-editors who are in transition from print. If this is you, or you are digital subbing already, or you’d like to guest-post, please get in contact via comments or email me at fionacullinan at hotmail dot com.

Andy Bull

Andy Bull, multimedia journalist and trainer

There weren’t many pleasures working for the Daily Mail.

One was to see the splash sub at work on the night of a very big story: the sort that turned from 1 to 2, 3, 4 and 5.

To see the many ingredients being fed to him, and those items diced, sliced and fed into the sort of seamless read-through of a big and complex story that the Mail excels at, was a joy. Or what passed for joy in that torture chamber.

That skill came to mind when I was working on tuition on Curation and Live Blogging for my training book and website, Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide.

Curation is getting a lot of attention these days, as is live blogging.’s live blogs won it 3.6 million new unique users last month [March 2011].

Yet while curation and live blogging are seen by some as new skills, and ones particularly suited to the new ways of reporting being developed for the web, it strikes me that they are infact very well-established skills indeed.

The sort of skills that any good sub has in spades.

Generally, the move to online news has not been kind to the art of sub-editing. It’s often considered an expendable link in the chain from reporter to (web) page. I don’t happen to agree with that, and I have the many typos on my website to support my view.

But I do think curation and live blogging offer great prospects for sub-editors. After all, what they involve is, rather than a lot of direct reporting, the selection, editing and mashing up of all sorts of inputs, from both professional and citizen journalists – or what I prefer to call eye-witnesses.

Any good sub can excel at these, and I believe subs should seize the opportunities offered by such developments in online media to underline their usefulness and carve out a redefined role for themselves.

To re-brand yourself from sub to curator and live blogger might even make management see you in a new light.

Footnote: Andy Bull offers an e-learning conversion course for print journalists, which gives practical experience in applying traditional skills to the new multimedia and mobile publishing platforms. You’ll find the details here.

Editing isn’t as easy as everyone thinks


Along with a bajillion others, I read about 26-year-old Amanda Hocking’s success in publishing her e-books on Kindle in a blog post called A Very Rich Indie Writer. She has self-published nine books and sold 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. PER MONTH!

After becoming internet phenomenon of the week a couple of weeks ago, she responded with this: Some things that need to be said – in which the above quote appears.

I’m making it Quote of the Week. Editing is an invisible but essential function, designed to tidy up, improve, fact-check, legal check, make more readable, cut the fluff and otherwise hone the content to be a better read for the audience. What sub-editors do goes far beyond basic grammar and spell checks.

And self-editing is hard (impossible, I would say).

Good luck to Amanda Hocking. With her inspiring success as an independent book publisher and all her hard work, she is surely now in the realm of affording a good editor. But with several recent features on the Lost art of editing, I hope she can find one.

As for me, I recently downloaded my first Kindle for Android e-book – Poke the Box – inspired by Seth Godin’s new publishing venture The Domino Project.

Both Poke the Box (which has a central message of ‘Go!’, or JFDI) and Amanda Hocking are shaping my own e-book idea. More of which, hopefully, in a future post.

Starter kit: how to blog for your company

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide. This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

The Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Blogger’s style guide: Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Whatever you are writing about – whether it’s offering niche expertise and explanation, an engaging anecdote on something that happened in your business this week, a review of a new product, etc – it is good to be aware that your post is going to be published and archived.

Which means it’s important to be aware of company blogging guidelines – even if you have a blog of your own where you might mention your employer.

Many companies have a Corporate Blogging Employee Policy, where you can read legal guidelines and best practice, so make sure you are given these or ask for a copy of them as they are there to help you blog.

As a quick guide

  • be honest and transparent without revealing company secrets
  • be accurate and attribute any quoted facts and figures back to the source
  • be respectful of others and underline where your post represents your own view

Finally, one quick way to protect yourself and the company is this great advice (I’m not sure who said it first): ‘Never say anything you wouldn’t be happy to say in front of your mother or your bank manager.’

Happy blogging!

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Writing a good title

  1. Make the title or headline of your post specific – it lets your reader know what to expect BEFORE they click.
  2. Don’t promise something you are not going to deliver as this will result in a broken experience and an annoyed reader.
  3. Resist the hilarious pun – it most likely won’t make any sense out of context.
  4. Include both first and last names if a person is the subject of your post – this is better for SEO (see  previous post on  SEO for writers).
  5. Think mobile. Many people now read content on their phone or in an RSS reader, so they may only see the first few words (40-60 characters). Based on that, they will decide whether to click through and read on – or not. The trick is to be plain, include your keyword/s and also be as enticing as possible, which is not that easy. Oh and don’t write a headline that is dependent on an accompanying image/video – these don’t always appear on portable devices.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Comments and feedback

Feel free to invite a response, ask for help or even not fully complete your thoughts on a post. This encourages people to respond; after all, this is a conversational not a broadcast medium. However, don’t worry if your posts are NOT getting replies, as 90% of internet users are passive readers who read without commenting.

It can be handy to have your own community of followers on Twitter/Facebook/etc so you can announce that you have a new blog post up – commenters are people who are interested in either the subject or you as a blogger.

Also, be reassured that company blogs are usually pre- or post-moderated for spam, rude responses or other comments breaching trade or company rules. Responses where people disagree, however, are generally seen as part of the conversation and offer great opportunities to respond, learn or even develop fresh blog post ideas.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]