What is a subeditor?

A friend recently sent me an article about the top 10 jobs parents don’t understand.

It was, unsurprisingly, called 10 Jobs That Are Impossible To Explain To Your Parents.

Being a subeditor was number five. Only they called it a ‘Sub Editor’.

It’s really not such a mystery. Here’s what the dictionary on my computer has to say:

Dictionary definition of term 'sub edit'

The dictionary definition of ‘sub edit’ from my Mac.

A subeditor, sub editor or sub-editor is there to make sure that what goes to print is grammatical, true to house style, in line with the voice of the publication, accurate, factual, well written, comprehensible, spelled correctly, matches the pictures, has the correct page number and footer plus picture credits and byline.

Oh, and most of those snappy headlines and suck-you-in-to-the-story intros and helpful captions. They write those too.

So, not a lot of work then. God knows why those grammar nazis complain, they’re just human spell checkers right?

Wrong, a subeditor has to be a writer, researcher, fact checker, grammarian and diplomat all rolled into one.

Plus they have to have a lot of general knowledge and common sense. There’s no point in making sure a sentence is free of typos if it says something that is complete nonsense.

Like the time I let the words ‘300 cups of milk’ in a recipe go to print. Hey I was tired, it was late and the last recipe in a booklet stuck onto the cover at the last minute. The problem? Seeing 300 on its own doesn’t raise any flags. It’s a real number plus it shows up in recipes all the time with ml or grams after it. See how easy it is to slip up? That’s why we need subeditors.

And the diplomacy part? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people who get paid to do so can’t write. Also, they are in denial about it. But even the good writers need smoothing down sometimes when their stuff gets chopped, changed or canned.

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