Great tits cope well with warming (BBC)
NZ finds black Cox hard to swallow (The Register)
Elton takes David up the aisle (The Sun)
Tiger Woods plays with his own balls, Nike says (AP Wire)
There’s not a lot wrong with these headlines, in the first example the sentence simply requires the change of a lower case‘t’ to an upper case ‘T’. But the difference in meaning is huge, as I hope you’ve already discovered, and had a bit of a giggle.
The profession responsible for errors in journalism is the sub-editor, commonly known as subs, who take the completed copy from the journalists and ‘polish’ it ready for print. They check facts and links and make sure the text not only makes sense, but fits with the very fine editorial voice of each publication. Take ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Times,’ for example. Every day both of those papers will cover roughly the same subjects. It’ll have features like the Chancellor’s Budget report, news on disasters, any scandals will also find a place in the papers.
But the way in which each paper does it, the precise selection of words, sentence length, use of grammar, varies with each publication and is designed to appeal to their exact audience, as dictated by market research. It could be that magazine ‘A’ sees they are starting to appeal to a younger audience, so they might start commissioning pieces that appeal to this market and make the ‘voice’ each uses a bit younger, or more jaunty. Magazine ‘B’ likewise might feel their target market is middle-aged businessmen, so they might decide to stick with long sentences, complex words and a serious tone. Publications spend a lot of time working on their voice and honing it to perfection.
The responsibility for that lies with the sub-editor, and so, regrettably for some, does the responsibility for the headlines above.
Those of you that know me might well wonder that, interesting though this is, how comes I bothered to figure out the above when I’ve been a social worker over twenty five years plus.
It’s because a long time ago I used to write articles for magazines in my spare time. Anyone that knows social work will know that the job involves writing lots of reports for different Courts. Mostly it’s Family Courts but occasionally others too. The Judges in these cases can’t be expected to make their decisions on the scanty and very one-sided submissions from each parties solicitors, so a social worker is sent out to the family or person and writes a huge and very detailed report on the issue, interviewing all the parties as many times as necessary and presenting it to the Court. It’s that and other evidence that guides their view.
All very well, I expect you’re thinking. But how does that fit in with a blog post on writing romance? Well, it’s because when I started writing for magazines my voice was very formal and the tone serious, I had honed my writing skills in my professional life exactly in tune with what my job, and what the Court, expected. I remember when I first started in social work. I’d read little more than course books at school and many, many women’s magazines. My dad worked for the Daily Telegraph as a printer and he’d bring home all the women’s magazines every week. I loved them. In my early social work days I’d have had less problem writing for magazines cos my style was naturally warm and chatty. But warm and chatty won’t do for Court reports.
So I used to scour the pages of other Court reports and collect formal, intelligent sort of sayings, and scatter them liberally through my work. I got so good at it that I used to teach report writing skills for Exeter University.
Unfortunately I also got so good at it I couldn’t do anything else, hence my interest in sub-editing.
Thankfully I’m over that now and can write whichever way I want, which is just as well. I know what you’re thinking now, you’re thinking let’s see some then, let’s see the same message then written in two different ways. I’m not going to though, cos I’m so engrossed with my book, an account of a child’s journey through care and the reasons and weird childhood I had that led to me becoming a social worker, because I didn’t want others to have the sort of childhood I did. You can look at The Times and The Sun on the same subject to see what I mean.
If I’ve really whetted your appetite for subbing there’s plenty of information and courses on subbing on the internet and loads of courses both online and face-to-face and even some exercise for you to practice at home. Just type sub-editing into Google and loads will come up.
Have a lovely New Year!