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« The Web Production Desk | Main | Speaking in East London in the morning »



I think you are right to highlight the fact that there are now numerous ways in which journalists interact with their audience. Some need a sub's intervention, some don't. Some interventions can happen before publishing, some after. You can't really intervene in live content, i don't think!
The question should be: when and where is the best place to sub?


Your question: "what would we do if this were really a live event, with the audience in the same room as the journalists?" is to the point. I take the view that the relationship between the journalist and the reader is a conversation, and the sub's primary role is to facilitate that discussion. Yes we check facts, spellings, legal queries - all of which are as important online as on paper - but we also make sure that the journalist has told the story that needs to be told as elegantly, succinctly and intelligably as possible, steering the reader by the shortest route to what they need to know. Some journalist blogs are well-written, some would benefit from a little attention and some need to be visited by a sub with a chain-saw. The brand of any publisher can be damaged if the element of independent quality control by people who are familiar with the market/readership is removed.


But Sue, you wouldn't actually get between the journalist and their listeners at a live event, would you?


Karl, clearly not. But anything more complex than a twitter entry probably needs a look. Experienced bloggers will be OK if looked at after publication, but should be routinely checked by a second pair of professional eyes. And I do often wish someone would sub the reports of tv journalists before they go to camera - there are some real howlers broadcast day in and day out.

It’s important not to see any of the creative team – writers, designers, subs – as superfluous to the process of delivering a product that will meet the needs of readers/users, and provide a strong brand against which the company can sell. The requirements of online publishing are different to those of print, but only in terms of the detail, not the bigger picture, and the skills and experience acquired by journalists belonging to each of these three disciplines will continue to be just as important to producing a unique and valuable online product as they have been in print.

When desktop publishing arrived subs stopped using the skills of casting off headlines and copy, measuring and sizing photographs for scanning, and so on - developing instead the skills of the typesetter and benefitting from the wysiwyg potential of DTP, which gave them the opportunity to experiment with headlines to find the best balance between impact and fit, to move pictures, other graphics and text boxes around to find the ideal combination of ingredients. But the intellectual process required to arrive at that solution remained, just using different tools to achieve the same ends.

Currently web publishing tools and company branding policies make the web environment less flexible, so that this sort of intervention is less common, but this need not be the case, and in the longer term, as tools become more user-friendly, layout subs will resume the practice of adjusting standardised pages to improve their impact.

The pace of change has accelerated as online offerings morphed rapidly from straightforward uploaded magazine content to blogs, forums, podcasts, videos and tweets delivered through a multitude of devices. The skills to deliver optimised content will similarly morph, but the ability of experienced subs to understand the requirements of these new media and devices will draw on their knowledge of past production processes, adapting them to the new requirements.

[BTW, are we yet considering the possibility of delivering magazine content – particularly PTod monthlies like ELaw or subscription services like those of XPertHR – via e-books, which were attracting increasing interest in the UK in 2008? This would require another re-consideration of layout as well as subbing – basic things like paragraphing requirements vary according to device, and until the techs deliver code that will recognise the receiving device and reformat content to work best in that terrain someone will have to tweak it, but sensitively.]


Sue, I agree with pretty much everything you say about the developing role of subs/production teams, and that they remain very important in an online world. I just think that the word-subbing bit of the job is becoming much less central.
There will still always be types of content that we will want to have subbed before they are published, but there will be many cases where we will either decide not to sub at all (at the most conversational end, including Twitter as you suggest, but perhaps a bit more than that) or to sub post-publication, an option not available in print but one that gives us a lot more flexibility online.
Apart from anything else, we don't want our production teams bogged down with word-subbing absolutely everything because we have so many other, more important things that we need them to do, especially (as you point out) now that the tools are becoming available to give more direct control over website layout.

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