Thursday, May 05, 2011

Outsourcing the subs

The ax has fallen on the sub editors (we call 'em copy editors) at Australia's The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

They're being outsourced.

Mic Looby recounts some of the announcement by the bosses at parent company Fairfax, including Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief of The Age:

Effectively removing in-house quality control would not affect the standard of journalism, Mr Ramadge assured us, because all reporters would be instructed to provide “cleaner copy”.

A reporter interrupted the bitter laughter of his colleagues to say there wasn’t a writer in the room who hadn’t been saved at some point by the keen eye and wise counsel of an in-house sub-editor. Others emphasised the importance of collaboration between those who write the news and those who prepare it for publication. In the heat of deadline, reporters and sub-editors need to be able to work together, face-to-face, they said. The bosses nodded and spoke of shared pain.

I've been a reporter, trying to turn in that cleaner copy, and an editor having to handle it. Bitter laughter indeed. Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

Anyone checked, lately, how many journalism schools don't even require editing anymore - this at a time when editing skills clearly are becoming more necessary for more than just editors?

Neil Holdway, treasurer of the American Copy Editors Society, pulled himself away from writhing in laughter at the "cleaner copy" remark (I'm sure), to file a reaction.

It’s not a bad thing to ask reporters to provide “cleaner copy”; we would hope they would want to do that anyway. In fact, we know quite a few conscientious reporters who take the time to review their own copy before filing it. But writing is a complicated thing and the human brain can do only so much at one time. Look what happened at Fox News upon word that Osama bin Laden had been killed: Their graphic — just a simple line of type — read “Obama bin Laden" ...
 Looby holds out the threat that fewer copy editors will mean more defamation suits. I've concluded, however, that with our changing concepts of privacy, people are giving up on such blunt methods as suing (not to mention the cost and time), and in all but the most egregious cases are shrugging it off. I just don't think the threat is as great, and I think executives, who are paid to at least instinctively, if not overtly, make such risk calculations, think the same thing.

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