In a piece that first appeared in Encore, Karina Piddington from Universal Magazines tells us how.
What does a sub-editor do?
Read all day. Sounds fun, right? It is when you get to work with a great variety of copy, as I do. But a good sub doesn’t just read copy; they help to mould it into a neat little package for readers. The role varies from publication to publication, but most subs will change copy to house style, correct grammar and spelling, cut copy to fit, restructure or re-write where it’s needed and write headlines, captions and intros. It may also involve page layout, formatting copy and bugging editors and journos for stories.
What skills do you need to be good at the job?
Good concentration and an eye for detail to ferret out those faults all day long. Communication skills are important; you have to be able to pester editors for copy, give feedback to journos and possibly deal with complaints about copy changes. Knowledge of media law is also a must to keep your publication out of trouble.
Who are the people you work closest with?
Editors and journos. We’re the middle men and women of newsrooms and publishing houses. I also work closely with pre-press and print co-ordinators.
Is there any lingo we need to know to do the job?
Even though journalists and editors spend most of their day avoiding jargon for the sake of their readers, there’s still plenty of lingo flying around the newsroom. The three most obscure I can think of are:
Widows and orphans — words and short sentences at the end of a paragraph dangling at the top or bottom of a column. These are ugly and can confuse readers, so we cut or format copy to get rid of them.
Dummy sheet — a draft page used to mark up which stories will go where.
Stet — latin for “let it stand”. Used by editors and proofreaders to indicate when a change should be disregarded.
What’s the best part of the job?
I’ve always loved magazines, so I’m pretty stoked to be involved in the production of a whole portfolio of them. I always get a buzz out of seeing the finished product.
What’s the biggest challenge?
It’s hard when you make a mistake. I’m the first one to say that nobody’s perfect but, when it’s your job to clean things up, it’s still cringe-worthy when you realise you’ve made a mess while doing it.
I also have a love-hate relationship with writing headlines. It’s fun and feels great when you come up with a great one but it really sucks when you know there’s a corker of a headline in there somewhere but it just won’t come out.
How do you become a sub-editor?
Study and practice journalism. You need to know what good stories are made of before you can mess around with the work of others.
Karina Piddington is the editorial production manager at Universal Magazines.
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.