SMH Readers’ Editor: Our standards will get worse before they get better

Editorial standards in the Sydney Morning Herald will get worse before they get better, the newspaper’s Readers’ Editor has warned in a column today. And the paper’s reporters need to buy themselves a book on grammar and to study up on spelling, Judy Prisk added.

Prisk began the column by quoting a reader who complained that editorial standards had slumped since Fairfax outsourced sub-editing of the SMH and The Age to AAP’s Pagemasters.

Prisk – a former managing chief subeditor of the newspaper – wrote: “And fair enough. The thing is, though, it will almost certainly get worse before it gets better. Although Fairfax’s ‘newsroom of the future’ – a digital-first attitude to its journalism – began operating on Monday last week, naturally there is much work to do implementing it and training staff for it. This will take a few months.”

Prisk also pointed out that copy used to go through several levels of checking  including layout subeditors, downtable subs and the a final round of proofreading. She said that journalists would now have to do so themselves – and that they would need to improve their grammar skills.

She wrote:

“There is, of course, a matter that cannot be ignored: the delicate subject of personal responsibility. Delicate for reporters, that is, but I can hear a cheer from ghosts of Herald subeditors past.

“Back in the day reporters would file their copy and hope for a good sub. Now that the industry has moved forward there is a strong possibility that that will not afford a good outcome.

“Reporters need to hunt around for a good book on grammar, and they should study up on their spelling and learn by rote, if necessary, the difference between, say, phase and faze, their and there, birth and berth, etc. A dictionary should always be by their sides, nestled close to their stylebook, and a thesaurus should linger nearby.”


  1. Hugo
    11 Jul 12
    11:22 am

  2. In other words, journalists can look forward to less time doing journalism.

  3. anon1
    11 Jul 12
    11:29 am

  4. It’s the last paragraph that is of concern. While accidental typos are of little concern, despite the self-righteous rantings of many readers, the fact that many journalists are graduating without decent grammar or vocabularies is a concern.

    Knowing the difference between “birth” and “berth” is the difference between being poorly educated and poorly read, and decently educated and decently read. If you don’t know the difference, then your English (and likely your intelligence) simply isn’t of a sufficiently competent standard to be working in a communications field.

    A dictionary or even automated spellchecker is no use, because it will not pick up “ignorance” errors.

  5. Offal Spokesperson
    11 Jul 12
    11:45 am

  6. gr8 rticl, im fully sic of peeps getin stuff rong.

  7. Roger
    11 Jul 12
    11:52 am

  8. Typos chip away at their professionalism but poor grammar chips away at their credibility. You would think that one of the requirements for being a qualified journalist is to at least get these two pillars of the written language right.

    I guess when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

  9. Gordo
    11 Jul 12
    12:06 pm

  10. I recently received a CV from a junior copywriter who promised “maticulous attention to detail.” Fully sic.

  11. Apostrophe
    11 Jul 12
    12:14 pm

  12. The real value of editors is when they say: how can you justify this? Good editors push back on the hype and flim flam that too often passes through. Just look at the commonality of copy across papers on so many stories. The reason is that there is a depth of spin that is too readily accepted.
    I don’t care how many subs get the axe. I do care that there are fewer and fewer editors who require that the reader has confidence that someone is standing between them and a truckload of crap from a “crisis management expert”.

  13. Ingmar Peldt
    11 Jul 12
    1:06 pm

  14. Poor little Hugo,

    What, proper writing is a distracting alternative to journalism? And ‘doing journalism’?

    Oh, pleeeeez! (Unless you were being ‘ironic’).

  15. blc1981
    11 Jul 12
    1:46 pm

  16. The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

  17. Jay
    11 Jul 12
    3:45 pm

  18. “learn by rote, if necessary, the difference between, say, phase and faze, their and there”

    Yes, and for god’s sake flair and flare. The two are NOT interchangeable.

  19. Ann
    11 Jul 12
    4:19 pm

  20. Laughable comment

  21. Wendy
    11 Jul 12
    4:35 pm

  22. Unfortunately poor use of language today is far more prevalent today than just on paper. You, don’t have to look any further than television interviews or language used around the office to see the increasingly incorrect usage of ‘myself’.
    Why has everyone all of a sudden replaced ‘I’ and ‘’me’ with ‘myself’??? It makes no sense.

  23. barfiller
    11 Jul 12
    10:15 pm

  24. Dear Apostrophe — “Good editors push back on the hype and flim flam that too often passes through.” — There was a time when sub-editors had a lot of say on the quality and substance of articles. The introduction of computers coincided with subs being turned into production-line workers. Look at the job title again: sub-EDITOR, not subhuman.