Tag Archives: checking

Nose abatement – not quite the new Wanky Balls

But still a rather lovely headline typo NOT spotted by the subs of the Birmingham Post and another indicator that inaccuracies can a story make (cf Wanky Balls). It’s getting comments so maybe it will stay. Spotted by Getgood.

Nose abatement headline

See, typos can be good.

10 reasons Wanky Balls cockup may not be lazy journalism

Last Saturday (7.08.10) the Independent printed – oh horror oh horror! – an error. Rather a funny error, though. For anyone who hasn’t had wanky balls on their lips today (sorry, that one nicked from The Twitchhiker), the clip claims that The Big Chill was formerly known as the Wanky Balls festival. Evidence in the final par below from the original spotter.

Independent clip with the error on

Spotted and clipped by musician Kat Arney, who knows the organisers of The Big CHill

The misinformation was lifted from Wikipedia – which Kat also clipped and published on her blog post.

It’s a classic fact-check funny that has also garnered many a witty comment wherever it was blogged. Bitter Wallet‘s commentators, for example, started openly bragging about their Wiki fiddling:

I once changed Roy Keane’s middle name from Maurice to Sarah, and it remained thus for a fortnight. I also changed the bit about him “often seen walking his dog, Triggs” subtly to “wanking”.

For ages Emily Bronte’s Wikipedia page kept reverting to a version which claimed she was buried with her pet monkey, Dave.

Etc etc. Warning: Depart now if you just want to enjoy the funny and skip my imminent rant.

But there were also many calls of ‘lazy journalism’ as well as the usual journalist haters who tend to lurk in comment sections. And, to be honest, they sucked all the fun out of the Wanky Ballsup, causing me to be a ranting subbing funsucker in return.

Of course, they could well be RIGHT. Someone lifted it from the Wikipedia page after all.

But…

As a sub-editor who was assigned to fact check every tiny detail for about 20 years, and who no longer does this for a living because of the advent of the lovely World Wide Web, I also call ‘lazy commenting’. I can think of plenty of excuses other than laziness for the appearance of Wanky Balls.

Such as…

Subbing cuts
Anyone who follows newsprint’s woes will know that editorial staff have been slashed and those who remain are often swamped with the extra workload. Entire subs teams have been let go in some cases and national newspaper subbing outsourced to other countries.

Subs brain drain
Freelance rates for sub-editors have been static or falling for a few years, work has been drying up and good subs have been moving on so that they can pay their mortgage. Budget cuts = ever-shrinking subs desk = fewer (not less!) factcheckers.

Web-first publishing
In web-first environments, reporters may have to sub their own copy whereas traditionally the sub-editing team would have checked the facts. Proofing your own copy? Cue potential Wanky Ball errors.

Human error
(sh)It happens.

Sub with a grudge
I remember a whole subbing team banding together after being sacked to code naughties into the captions.

Bored sub
As above but with a sense of humour.

Untrained sub
This is so going to sound like an old fart but back in the day you had to learn your subbing chops through an accredited apprenticeship or training course. I can’t tell you the amount of subs I’ve met who say they’ve just shimmied over into subbing from writing. Hello? Media law? Understanding of a decent source? Not out of the realms of possibility that the chief shouted over to the rookie to ask if it he checked it and the rookie said yes to save embarrassment.

Untrained writer
Same same but likely to nick willy-nilly wanky balls off the internet, especially from that nice, handy, informative Wikipedia site. Good subs should be trained to spot such plagiarism; see my next excuse.

Luddite sub
With a grey head long stuck in print, he/she possibly has no idea that Wikipedia is a first port of call not a fact-checking end destination. It came up first in Google…

Deadline call
It looked suspect but just wasn’t worth holding up the presses for. Or more likely, the end sub saw it and thought there’s no way this got to me without being checked – it’s so OTT it must be true.

Of course, has anyone considered that it might actually be true, that Wanky Balls was an affectionate working title named by the wags behind it ? After all, many a silly or rude band name has been tried on for size by musicians before they picked the final winner.

So just to be sure I asked Kat Arney what her source was, and could it possibly be true on some level?

She replied:

I personally know Pete Lawrence, the founder of the Big Chill, and many people who’ve been involved in the festival since the very beginning. So I can categorically tell you it’s incorrect.

So I checked. Happy now? Although perhaps we should phone the organisers to be 100% sure and get it direct from the horse’s mouth.

You’ll have to do it, though; there’s a huge spider that just legged it under my sofa (I’m serious), and imma gonna have to jump to safety.

Now BIG SPIDER – that is a proper excuse for Wanky Balls.

#walkyballsgate

RIP Sub-editing: the rise of technology – pt 2

Continuing on from yesterday’s intro on a farewell to my former life in sub-editing, here’s a bit about who sub-editors are, what they do (did?) and how they do (did) them… with a particular look at the changing tools of the trade. But first a picture of my old kit, dredged out of the attic for your viewing pleasure.

typewriter typescale wheel proofmarks

A colon of sub-editors (or should that be a semi-colon?)
Most people don’t seem to know the copy editing role even exists beyond perhaps a cursory proofread. ‘What! You mean the press actually checks things?’ But I kid you not. Checking, revising, headling, captioning, styling and generally sorting out copy was my full-time job for around 20 years.

I’m assuming most of the people reading this blog are subs. But just in case, for those who don’t know what sub-editing or copy editing is, it essentially involves all those tasks that take place between the writer’s raw copy and the final publishing.

Most are corrections, amends or refinements of copy, some tasks involve fact-checking or legal queries. With online work there is the addition of SEO, metadata, hyperlinking, categorising, tagging and chunking copy.

Sub-editing is also called subbing in the UK and copy-editing in the US. Which makes for annoying SEO – in this blog anyway.

proofing marks

British Standard proofing marks - proofreading is sort of like sub-editing on galleys or page proofs. © Periodical Training Council training material

Dirigible submarines
For online work, I’m using the term ‘digi sub’, probably also because it crosses dirigible and submarine in my head. But mainly because it’s a faster, easier way to indicate a sub-editor with digital skills.

The trouble is, the universal language of job titles hasn’t caught up with technology. Maybe the job role doesn’t even exist anyway.

Traditional sub-editing (and proofreading, see pic left), for me anyway, has all but disappeared, shrunk into a task within a wider set of tasks, disappearing under the weight of new roles, new technologies and job titles like web editor, producer, content person, content strategist, email editor, SEO writer, etc.

It’s no wonder I have trouble answering the ‘what do you do’ question these days.

This next section makes me feel old
Since I started subbing in 1987, technology has advanced rapidly. I’ve gone from subbing on paper through the revolution of desk-top publishing and onto the Web. Feel free to skip the nostalgia trip… but the following were once the tools of my trade.

In 1986 I remember running around the many floors of the Elephant and Castle skyscraper that housed the London College of Printing (now Communication), trying to find a hugely heavy and ancient Imperial Corona 55 typewriter to produce an article to deadline on.

Val Clark, the fearsome feature-writing tutor, was a scary hack, famous for her slicked-back power ponytail and crimson lips. She wanted 200 words in 20 minutes – and she didn’t give a fig about providing you with the ‘technology’ to produce them. No excuses. No obstacles. If you failed, you missed the deadline and therefore were no journalist. Her best lesson was tenacity!

We learnt shorthand at 100 words a minute using a pen and reporter’s notebook.

I had a rubbish mini tape recorder that sped up progressively until my interviewees sounded like they were Pinky & Perky. I also had a Silver Reed typewriter (which I still have – see pic!) – my pride and joy – that cost £79.99 from WH Smith in 1987, and a wodge of carbon copy paper.

page scheme

Scheme of a layout from my Periodical Journalism training notes © Periodical Training Council.

Sub-editing and proofreading were carried out using red pen and printer’s proofing marks – brief hieroglyphic instructions that the printers used to amend copy. A typescale and photo wheel (aka ‘Reproduction computer’ – which always tickled me as it was essentially two bits of plastic stuck together) completed the kit if you were doing layout too, which I was. All of these can be seen along with my trusty (dusty) typewriter in the picture at the top of the post.

Oh look! A page! On the screen!
Around 1988, computers were creeping into the magazine and newspaper production process. You produced your own galleys of body copy. How exciting! Seeing actual print pasted onto the layout (the design was still done by pencil and typescale ruler).

PageMaker and QuarkXpress page layout software arrived around 1990 and, with them, design by mouse. No more casting off characters or guess work for the sub; a headline was now WYSIWYG and a little red X icon signalled overmatter to cut

As time and software moved on, those with Quark skills got the work, while PageMaker subs began to languish. I learnt the lesson – you had to keep up with technology.

Desktop publishing = copy fiddling = repetitive strain injury
Discovering kerning and tracking was a satisfying moment. How neat we could now make the copy look – without squeezing a line beyond ‘-3’, of course (whatever that meant).

All the tweaking and endless opportunities for correction, as well as the lack of knowledge about ergonomics and how to sit and compute for 8 hours, gave me the modern version of Scrivener’s Palsy: RSI, repetitive strain injury. I was 22 and unable to work for a year.

Still, it was a boom time for subs. Throughout the 90s, there seemed to be new mag and newspaper launches every other month. The software was further refined and delineated: subs needed Word and Quark; designers Quark, PhotoShop and Illustrator.

Next (bear with me, it’s an epic but I promise LOLcats): The internet arrives and changes everything.

LOLcat

LOLcats changes evryfing. © Kitty de Medici/Flickr

Style guide wiki now up for online copy editors

After calling for a universal style guide in a recent post, well, here it is:

Style guide for online sub-editors 

Thanks to journalism.co.uk for the set-up. It’s editable for your learning pleasure and is full of tips, links and explanations for print subs moving over to online. Would be great to hear the input and suggestions of subs and copy editors, or go to the wiki and add your tuppence worth there.

There’s loads of things I haven’t covered, or haven’t covered enough. Please help and make this work-in-progress a useful resource.

Not so hot sub-editing from The Star

Subs, get your woolly bras and panties on. The Daily Star appears to have been concentrating a little too hard on the snow-covered mounds of their busty Santa lady pic today for they have the UK facing a ‘Day After Tomorrow’ weather catastrophe:

BRITS should brrrrace themselves for a big chill in the New Year with weathermen warning temperatures could plunge as low as minus 130C.

Don’t worry though, they’ve then given us a tropical heatwave by day with ‘maximum daytime temperatures… between 20C and 40C’.

Positively balmy. Thanks to @bobbiejohnson for the Twitter tip-off.

Extra zeroes anyone? Subs? Anyone?

PS The degree symbol is under ‘insert symbol’ in Word on PC and something like shift alt 9 on Macs.

Confessions of a Twitterer

Writer Matt Hill posted this a couple of days ago on microblogging service, Twitter:

So I wrote ‘little bastard’ instead of ‘child’ on some web copy; mainly for the amusement of a proofreader. Who missed it. I’m in trouble.

Funny but I am well and truly shocked. Are there really proofreaders on the web?

Let’s create a universal style guide for web subs

Get your red pen out, or should that be grey mouse? The first steps towards a style guide for subs and copy editors working online are being taken by Martin Stabe, online editor at Retail Week. Huzzah!

This follows The Times finally changing its style for Bombay to Mumbai. Because even though the city officially changed its name in 1995, the recent attacks have zoomed Mumbai up the Google search rankings, so much so that it has now become the preferred search term of UK users. It seems The Times is playing the SEO game – and rightly so.

Martin says he’ll be posting a public Google Docs soon for subs to contribute to. But I wonder if a wiki might allow for a wider take on this, encompassing a central place to house preferred search terms across a multitude of topics. Think of all the online women’s sites, for example, that would like to know that ‘lose weight’ is the search term to write in over ‘diet’ (according to Google Trends).

Anyone up for it?

Also, since ‘fall’ scores higher than ‘autumn’ and ‘copy editors’ beats ‘subs’, should we also start brushing up on our American English?