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.”


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