Before the advent of the internet, the role of sub-editor didn’t endure too many twists and turns. Dangling participles didn’t disappear, and neither did the humble hyphen take on any new meanings. However, thanks to the explosion of online media over the last decade, sub-editors need to be more alert to changing times than ever before.
With that in mind, here are some tips on sub-editing for the digital consumer.
While I can’t speak for those old-timey sub-editors who once worked alongside archaic printing presses, I did spend my formative years in the print industry – newspapers and monthly magazines, namely – so I understand the sector’s reluctance to fully accept its slow and painful demise.
Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to move into the digital sector, and although this is undoubtedly where the future of content resides, sub-editors from different industries need to take care not to make the jump too quickly. You may think there’s no difference between subbing a brief vox pop for a daily newspaper and proofreading a puff piece for a small business blog, but you’d be wrong.
Nothing will reveal you to be a middle-aged print sub-editor more than capitalising words that needn’t be capitalised. Terms like ‘internet’, ‘big data’ and ‘tweet’ should remain as they are. These terms and their ilk are in the vernacular now, especially with twenty-something business gurus who will be reading your content and hoping your brand is the forward-thinking company they have been searching for.
As with everything, go with the appropriate style guide (“Wi-Fi”, for example, is more often than not the spelling of choice for our clients rather than “wi-fi” or “wifi”), but don’t revert back to your university notes about capitalising things like ‘Internet’. Only government websites can get away with that nowadays.
Gen Y and co. love making up words. And if they’re not concocting new ones, they’re mashing old ones together or shortening them to their bare minimum. We need to embrace them.
With online content taking off in the business world, you’ll be seeing more of acronyms like SaaS (software as a service), PPC (pay per click) and SERP (search engine results page). Familiarise yourself with these and more – you don’t want to be relying on the old Macquarie Dictionary for spelling recommendations.
Similarly, don’t be afraid to forgo the hyphen when certain words call for it. This goes beyond the print-to-online gap, but it’s worth mentioning, as an overabundance of hyphens is a regular problem for both writers and editors. Perhaps the most common one I see is ‘well-being’. This hyphenated version of ‘wellbeing’ is as dated as it is prolific. Unless you’re writing for a US client (who we all know love their hyphens) then there’s no excuse for excessive hyphenation.
Finally we come to social media. I’m not going to bore you with statistics of how many tweets are grammatically incorrect, but for those of you who are managing social media platforms for clients or even your own business, there are a couple of queries that need addressing.
Take for example a tweet that reads: “We’re looking for an #auroraborealis party. Anyone know where?”
What do we do about the hashtag? Do we say “hashtag” when we read it? Is ‘a’ more correct than ‘an’, since a vowel directly follows the hashtag symbol? Ask 100 people the same question and you’ll probably receive varied responses. Personally, I tend to believe that people don’t say “hashtag” in their heads when reading tweets, unlike sports pundits and podcast hosts trying to trend on Twitter. The same goes for @ tweets. Take the symbol out of the equation and keep the sentence grammatically correct.
There are so many other elements of sub-editing for online content that could be investigated, but for now your best bet is to keep reading, keep researching and keep on top of the latest trends and terms in online media.
Simon Jones – Sub-Editor