As part of our continuing series of advice for journos (see more links below), Grubstreet is very pleased to bring you Krash’s top tips for subs (complete with witty quotes!). King will be facilitating an advanced subbing course at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism at the end of July this year.
“There should be no crying in copyediting.” – Carol Fisher Saller
Question everything: If you’re not asking questions, you’re not getting the answers for your reader. Question every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every attribution, translation, currency conversion, metaphor, aphorism, ellipses and every one of the five W’s. The more questions you ask, the fewer your reader has to.
Hit the right note: Newspaper deadlines are now officially beyond insane. And the pressure will only get worse, so get used to it. They are called deadlines because people die getting there. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice getting things right. Whether it’s facts, figures, quotes, spelling, grammar, email addresses, web links, or simply double-checking a telephone number, get it right the first time. It saves time and money, and preserves your newspaper’s reputation.
Spellchecker is your friend: You still need a human eye to mind your “pubic” from your “public”, or your “dairy” from your “diary”, but spellcheckers have become increasingly smart over the years, all thanks to an algorithmic arms race of sorts. You’d be smart to use it on every piece you subedit.
“Language is more fashion than science, and matters of usage, spelling and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines.” – Bill Bryson
Lede it or lose it: The lede is a reporter or subeditor’s biggest and most powerful weapon in a fast-paced society with an astoundingly low attention span. Worship this linguistic device. When you’re done, learn how to use it. It’s a case of use it effectively, or lose your reader from the get-go.
Rich in resources: Devour everything around you. From your newspaper’s dictionary of choice (I’m a shameless Collins promoter) to essential reference books (I adore Bill Bryson) to online subediting courses, Twitter news feeds, online style guides, word blogs, quiz shows and radio language programmes (Word of Mouth on SAfm always floats my boat).
“It was an instinct to put the world in order that powered her mending split infinitives and snipping off dangling participles, smoothing away the knots and bumps until the prose before her took on a sheen, like perfect caramel.” – David Leavitt
Know your reporter: I can tell whose copy I’m editing without even a cursory glance at the byline. Every reporter has a textual identity of sorts, from the language and lexicon, to the niggling nuances and cookie-cutter journalism. Show me the story and I’ll show you the reporter. The great advantage for the subeditor, of course, is knowing exactly which red flags to look out for. But don’t keep it to yourself. Inform the reporter. You don’t want to be an enabler.
Perfect punctuation: Lynne Truss pretty much said it all in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but every subeditor needs an occasional reminder about the power of punctuation.
“This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” – Winston Churchill
“It’s beyond my control”: Subeditors are a publication’s last line of defence, but who really cares, right? Well, the answer is not a lot of people. As Twitterspeak has proved, it’s all about the message, not about the literacy of the messenger. Expect to hear a lot more of those R words (recession or retrenchment) over the next few years. Some things are simply beyond your control.
Technology titbit: You’d be surprised how much time you save just by setting up and organising your computer workspace. Customise your browser and email, set up your homepage, memorise your computer program’s short cuts, bookmark your reference websites, filter your news feeds.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Resist the urge to go on subeditor autopilot. Never change things just for the sake of changing. Sometimes, just sometimes, you have the pleasure of subediting a writer or reporter who has mastered not only his or her craft, but yours too. Step away from the copy and simply enjoy that rare moment of sheer bliss.
How to survive newsdesk and be great at it, March 2012; and Veteran Sunday Times news editor Peter Malherbe’s tips for newsdesk, March 2012