13 November 2006

Overdue recognition

The Guardian published a column today by Kim Fletcher, who praises the sub-editors who dig journalists out of deep holes. You can read it here.

I used to work as a staff sub-editor on several consumer mags. The pressure is horrendous and you are expected to produce perfect pages with tip-top accuracy against outrageous deadlines. The accuracy is not a problem for the likes of myself and others dedicated to the craft of maintaining quality English. But I've lost count of the number of times I've saved a hack's skin because what they submitted was, well, shite, to be honest. As Fletcher says, journalists win awards for stuff they have had published that without the sub's intervention would have been unreadable.

Just today, I saw on a listserv I subscribe to a request for advice from a wannabe about becoming a feature writer. His post was littered with typos, including a comment that maybe he should take a "different tact". Yeah, well...

I've always maintained that a bad writer will always be a bad writer. If you seriously want to be a good writer, it helps to be able to spell and know how to punctuate properly. And having a grasp of good grammar wouldn't go amiss either.

Fletcher goes on to remark that papers are finding it difficult to recruit sub-editors these days. I'm not surprised. The pay is lousy, with starting levels at around £15k, meaning that no one except school-leavers and graduates could possibly be interested. You can't survive on that sort of money, let alone pay a mortage and feed a family. And today's school-leavers and graduates are of the generation that were not taught grammar in school and wouldn't have a clue how to edit. Let's face it, those of us who do know have all gone freelance. If the press wants to boost recruitment into what is a highly skilled job, they need to raise starting pay levels to a minimum £25k pa, and offer training as well.

Otherwise, the industry will continue to bleed existing talent and fail to unearth new.

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