Moving from journalism to content marketing came with a sobering realisation for me: few people outside the traditional sphere (or online comments section) knew what a sub-editor was. When I started out in the world of journalism, there were always writers who viewed us as little more than a belligerent nuisance, there to be tolerated as we butchered their work and made their lives difficult (I maintain that this is only partly true), but sub-editors were still seen as an integral part of the writing process.
It is a job that requires the ability to put ego aside and let the reporter’s tone endure. There is a lot of crossover between the requirements for both: a need to make the story compelling; a strong lede; good imagery; no legal errors; accurate facts; a decent narrative; well-structured copy and, if all else fails, a screaming, scare-mongering headline. Grammar and spelling is important, of course, but it’s a really small part of the job.
Many people who aren’t from a traditional journalism background confuse subbing with proofing, so are happy to hand a fresh article to an intern or junior, with the idea they can catch any spelling mistakes. But if that’s your attitude towards quality control, you may as well just entrust it to spell check. You’ll get what you deserve.
But not everyone agrees, and not everyone can see the value. So, with that in mind, here’s why editing is a vital part of the writing process for brands.
Nothing undermines authority more than inaccuracies, and if a brand can’t be trusted to check their work for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, then how can they be trusted at all? We all make mistakes, but typos in your copy make you look at best lazy and at worst incompetent. Not something you want when you’re trying to engage with your audience. So why do you need a sub? Why can’t a talented, experienced writer just edit their own work? Well, if you already know what message you’re trying to convey, you see what you expect to see. And, unless you have crippling self-confidence issues, you’re not going to expect your work to be a typo-riddled horror show.
There’s nothing worse than a determined writer with a thesaurus in their hands and a word count to fill. Waffling, rambling articles are tiresome to read, while superfluous words muddy the water and confuse your message. We can be a bit precious about our work, though, believing every word to be a vital piece in a solid gold jigsaw – which is why we need a sub to come in and swing the axe for us.
Ahead of the game
We only have to look at the likes of the Protein World debacle to see that times are changing rapidly – and what was once perfectly fine is now a scandal waiting to happen. Your subs are up on the trends and the news. They are aware of sensitive subjects and topical opportunities, because it is their job to be aware.
Keeping one another in check
Knowing you have that safety net fosters better writing, because it encourages you to take risks you might not otherwise take. The writer pushes the boundaries; the sub keeps them in check. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and, without it, the writer is forced to censor themselves and second guess what might be acceptable (which is how blandness is born).
Being comfortable with challenging
Your sub is your sense check and safety net, so it makes sense to entrust your work with someone with as much experience of the business as possible. Would you trust an intern to sense check your work, or have the confidence to stand up to you if they disagreed with any aspects of the story? And if they did, would you listen? That’s a really important part of the job: being confident and thick-skinned enough to stand your ground against experienced writers and editors when necessary, and earn their trust.
It might not be a glamorous job – it doesn’t have the romance of writing, the glory of reporting or the drunkenness of poetry, and thinking up puns makes up a surprisingly large part of the workload – but my choice to become a sub-editor was a deliberate one. I wanted to be on the front line of quality control, to liberate great articles from any errors or unnecessary words that might be hiding their worth, to clean them up and mould them into readable shape. These noble goals, coupled with the fact that I don’t like to spend too much time outdoors, are why I chose to be a sub, and why I’ll always defend it as an essential part of the writing process.
Feel free to alert me to any typos in the comments section.