Tag Archives: sub-editing

Online editing and digital skills for print subs

Fiona Cullinan presenting to attendees

Photo by Pete Ashton / ash10.com

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 fionacullinan@hotmail.com

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:

Editing isn’t as easy as everyone thinks

Amanda%20Hocking%27s%20Blog%3A%20Some%20Things%20That%20Need%20to%20Be%20Said

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.

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

LOLcat grammar

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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

RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008 – pt 1

Everyone has an indulgent, epic blog post in them and this is mine: a look back and a farewell to my 21 years of sub-editing.

I started this blog when the print industry was starting to really fall apart 18 months ago. I wanted to put down some of the funny things that happen on the subs desk, some of the issues that we had to deal with.

Instead it quickly turned into a personal transit lounge for crossing over to digital work. How did this happen? This is that story…

matthew broderick

Image: © @tnarik/Flickr

Thankyou Matthew Broderick!

My love of computers can be traced back to a teenage crush on Matthew Broderick who nerded his way though both Thermo-Nuclear War in War Games and bunking off school in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

This led me into the school computer room in the 80s, internet cafés in the 90s, a job with Freeserve in 2000, Friendster in 2002, blogging in 2008, and web editing in 2009.

In between all of this, the one constant was my work as a sub-editor. Demand was high and more often than not I was booked for weeks or months ahead of time. They were golden days for The Freelance Sub.

Even through the recession of the early 90s, there was work – albeit in the unhealthy, correction-heavy world of TV listings.

You’ll always need correct spelling (maybe)
But things got seriously shaky during the recession of 2008/9 as the increasing impact of the internet on advertising revenues finally seemed to wake newspapers up to their crumbling revenue model. Entire sub-editing departments were sacked, outsourced or cut back (Telegraph, City AM to name but two) as print budgets dried up.

Meanwhile, the diligent fact-checking sub-editor was also facing a new Web-first world where correct spelling, fact-checking, pun headlines and copy-fitting were becoming increasingly redundant, post-moderated or deprioritised.

Still, I hung on to my safe, traditional sub-editing role for as long as I could. And in the downtime of the monthly magazine subs desk, I started a blog.

You would blog too if it happened to you
Little did I know that blogging was going to change everything.

For one thing, I started social networking with people beyond my Myspace/Facebook pool of friends and family. For another, I met my lovely partner Pete Ashton who was teaching me to blog at his weekly blog surgeries held in a Birmingham coffee shop.

My relationship with Web 2.0 was also taking off. The progression went something like this: a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account, a Flickr account and a Tumblr. Then came the ‘IRL’ meet ups with my new virtual friends and signing up for Web unconferences.

It was a whole ’nother world, one that you only had access to if you were engaged with it. Socially and with half an eye on the future, it made sense and felt right. Online felt expansive while print now felt reductive.

Twitter became my personal recommendation engine. It pushed interesting and new ideas at me through links and blog posts. It was thanks to Twitter that I decided to send myself to South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, held in March each year. Nothing else had changed their life / career / outlook as much as going to SXSW.

Digital skills: I can haz them?
As my print work dried up, I started to get small jobs from my engagement with an online network that was just a few weeks old. One memorable job came from discovering a Twitter contact was in my local Coop. We tweeted. We met in the wine aisle. He offered me work writing on a new website. As you do.

Digital skills combined with old-school editorial experience were in demand. I landed a contract with a digital agency and soon found myself working on blogs, wikis, ezines and SEO features. It was liking starting all over again.

Suddenly sub-editing was something I had to outsource to other subs because I was too busy doing something called ‘web editing’ or ‘social media copywriting’ or whatever the task of the day was. Only there weren’t any digital subs out there so suddenly I found myself having to teach the little that I knew to print subs.

For a while now I’ve been giddy with how much my work life has shifted in just two years. The last 12 months in particular have involved a complete reinvention of my career. Am I even a journalist anymore? Mostly I would say no, although I still use the skills of the trade. Sub-editing still happens, but the skills have had to be revised and expanded, and the amount of time to sub has been slashed. At least the online medium is, by its instant-publish nature, more forgiving of a typo.

Next… part two: sub-editing and the rise of technology

Journalist, train thyself! Online needs you… desperately!

A few days ago I was asked by The Jobless Journalist about the merging of reporting and subbing in an online environment… and should s/he as a reporter (with some subbing experience) apply for sub-editing roles.

Well, the digital skills gap has been a source of frustration for me for a few months now so I’m afraid the subject rather got me going… it’s very much from a client publishing perspective rather than a multimedia newsroom but here’s the transcript.

And if you don’t want to read 1200 words on future-subbing, then the short version is nicely SEO’d into the header above.

Do you see the divide between reporter and sub lessening with online journalism, ie a reporter needs to be able to sub as content is uploaded directly online?

Firstly, good on you for blogging about this. Not only are you engaging a load of other journalists who are probably pretty damn worried about their trade and their future, but you are opening up many more potential job opportunities for yourself by engaging in the culture of online and learning the skills of digital publishing.

Oh and unless someone’s radically altering your post and headlines, you’re already both reporting and subbing, yes?

Right now, you’re working out for yourself what works in this environment copywise, headlinewise, structurewise. In blogging at least, reporting and subbing tend to be integrated (along with photography, IT skills and social media basics).

Which kind of answers your question on the divide between reporter and sub in online environments. Divide? What divide?

The divide is less about reporting versus subbing, imho, and more about are you engaged or not, are you digitally included or not.

By not engaging more in online environments, traditional journalists are not developing their digital writing or subbing skills, let alone all the other skills that go with publishing to the Web, like:

  • picture research under Creative Commons licences
  • image manipulation
  • linking skills
  • SEO knowledge
  • how to upload and promote content
  • and the big one: the ability to deal with readers talking back to you.

It is an ongoing frustration in my line of work – currently web editor/corporate blogger – that people say they want to work online but don’t have a blog, Twitter account, Tumblr or Posterous, and don’t use feeds, social bookmarking, alerts and other tools to help them be a journalist online.

It’s like trying to write a news story but only occasionally reading a newspaper. Just having a Facebook page isn’t enough, because your readers online will know more than you – and they’ll let you know it.

I came across a great quote to illustrate this in the Top 10 Lies Newspaper Execs are Telling Themselves:

Until you have a blog, a Twitter feed and a Facebook account and until you are reading most of your news online and commenting on what you read, until you are all over Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, iGoogle, Netvibes and the like, until you can actually explain to me how online CPM-based advertising works, until you can explain how SEO and SEM work, until you know what “pwnd” means, until you know the significance of the 3 Wolf Moon or 3 Cat Keyboard t-shirt, you don’t know what you don’t know.

You are competing with the very people who created the Internet.  Increasingly, you are competing with the generation who grew up online.   How can you possibly be so arrogant that you think you can compete in that world without becoming a part of it?

I’ve been actively looking to hire digital subs and SEO-trained writers in the last six months – but I’ve struggled to find people who are really digitally engaged. I sometimes wonder if it’s because journalists tend to rely on mammoth publishing organisations for training. They are not used to going out there and training themselves. (This is where freelances have an advantage – we are used to self-development because it’s a generous publisher who will pay for our training.)

This presents great opportunities for reporters and subs who are looking for online work because in online publishing there is no set path in… at least for the moment while universities get to grips with how to train up the journalists of the future and those who are traditional print journalists move from shock at their industry collapsing either to engaging with the new medium or perhaps, resentfully, having it foisted upon them on top of their usual work.

No one can prescribe you a way into a job in online journalism. No one is asking you to train as a reporter first and perhaps later, when you’ve learnt how to write in a certain style, then train as a sub. There is no discrete set of jobs in online publishing – unless you count the way the digital dept I work for is divided: web editor, developer, designer with a side order of subs who process print stuff easily but need to [find the time to] engage [in online culture] in order to ‘get’ online.

From what I’ve read (mostly on teh Online Journalism Blog – and, subs, you can stet that ‘teh’ – it’s an online thang), reporters in multimedia newsrooms are being asked to sub their own work; meanwhile subs are being made redundant. How reporters are supposed to sub to old-school standards, perhaps with minimal experience or training, and 24-hour newsroom deadline pressures, should be interesting! Would love to be a fly on the wall of the 21st century newsroom. But just on a practical level, I know I find it hard to sub my own work, and I know I’m not alone in that.

Then again, online environments are a different beast. It’s publish first, refine later. You may not be shot for a typo but you do need to know the pitfalls – particularly if you are working for a brand – and this is perfect sub-editor territory.

Does this herald the death of the sub or will there always be the need for a second pair of eyes?

Every bit of copy benefits from a second pair of eyes, imho. But the comments section can act as a rather more public second set of eyes, pointing out your typos and incorrect facts. In a way this is more transparent but it has its downsides.

Personally, I’d love a sub to come along and clean up my typos, SEO my copy for me, add metadata to my content, suggest a better mobile-phone-surfer-headline, keep me out of court then social bookmark my content in relevant places and ways. In practice, this rarely happens – mainly due to the current digital skills gap.

How does freelance subbing compare with a full-time subbing job. Which is easier to get into?
You’re asking the wrong person here as a dedicated freelancer. Freelance subbing is the same for me as full-time subbing except you occasionally have to put up with the ‘just a freelance’ mentality of some employers, and you have to work the British summer as it’s peak time to cover holidays. The pay off is you can (potentially) take months off at a time to travel, write your novel, start a blog… 😉

Easier to get into? Hard to say. The last year has been a difficult one for freelance subs definitely, although there seem to be a few green shoots of recovery around now. All I can say is, it takes balls and bluff to go straight into freelance subbing without having done a full-time stint somewhere first. And that budgets are moving online.

In which case, the ‘jobless journalist’, who’s done a year’s subbing already, and is now visibly blogging for all the world to see, is perfectly positioned for hire.

Good luck with the job search. I suspect and hope you won’t just be blogging for long.

LATE ADD: I left my job last week to go freelance as a blogger and do more social media and content strategy ‘stuff’.  Sooo…. my agency is looking for web editors – check out the job advert if you’re interested. And if you’re a freelance sub/writer with a blog, Twitter account and a general immersion in online, then it may be worth sticking in a CV or a link to your site, too.