The age of the sub-editor in local newspapers is over and will not return, a former daily editor has declared.
Neil Fowler, who edited four regional titles in a 25-year career in the industry, said that the funding model of news had changed irrevocably and the “luxury” of having staff to rewrite and fact-check reporters’ stories has gone.
Instead, Neil said journalists and newsrooms needed to embrace a culture of “getting it right first time.”
He called for a set of basic skills on which all student journalists would be tested before being let loose in the newsroom, including spelling, grammar, writing to length, headline-writing and “getting the best out of dull stories.”
Neil’s comments came in an article for the latest edition of the media magazine InPublishing.
They come amid uncertainty about the survival of sub-editing as a traditional newsroom skill, with reporters increasingly being encouraged to publish directly to websites and locally-based subbing roles outsourced to production hubs.
Wrote Neil: “It’s an easy argument to make. Newspapers are poor because they’ve sacked all the subs. If only there were more subs, sitting near to the reporters, regional and local newspapers would be free of errors, life would be local, and life would be better. And sales would increase.
“No, they wouldn’t, as any rational observer of the industry appreciates.
“If we are to have a sensible view of the role of sub-editors, we must acknowledge that the funding model of news has changed. The luxury of having time and resource to rewrite and fact check every reporter’s story has gone.
“That doesn’t mean that copy should not be checked and revised when necessary, but it does mean that there needs to be a great deal more of ‘right first time, every time’.”
Neil, who is now managing director of internal communications firm Headlines, goes on to argue that the initial responsibility for this lies with editors who recruit and the universities and colleges which educate would-be journalists.
He called for all student journalists to be tested on a set of “simple rules” covering such issues as spelling, grammar, fact-checking, balance, headline-writing, writing to length and “getting to the heart of the story.”
Added Neil: “Student journalists should be tested on all of these and if they can’t pass strenuous exams they should be allowed nowhere near any newsroom, either traditional or in the local coffee shop.
“The modern-day journalist should be right first time, every time – and should accept no excuse for failing to reach this very simple standard.”