Rantings of a sub-editor

May 24, 2010

A lesson in humility

Filed under: Substuff says...,the Guardian — substuff @ 9:35 am
Tags: , ,

I did my second shift at the Guardian yesterday, which was much more of an in-at-the-deep-end experience than my first one. No-one had been warned of my newbie-most-clueless status this time, which was good in a way because it meant I had to ask people for help and couldn’t just sit there being a ball of shyness.

On my first shift, I only subbed stories for print – it was decided that I should be spared the subbing-for-web experience. However, as it’s one of the things I’m most eager to learn, this time I asked straight away if someone could show me the ropes. A very patient man called Neil volunteered and showed me exactly what I had to do (and he did it well – I took notes and was able to do it all on my own later that day).

The Guardian subs, so far as I can tell, get stories ready for the web and the paper more or less simultaneously. The stories appear on the content management system marked “web then print”, “print then web”, “web only” or “print only”. But whereas (I think) at other publications the copy is split into two directions and two documents, here it remains as one.

Getting the document ready for the web isn’t actually hard (not armed with my notes, anyway) – in fact, it makes a nice change, as you get to source the picture and crop it to fit, which is kinda cool. The tagging isn’t as hard as I’d imagined it would be, either. However, the difficult part (and presumably the reason I was protected from it on my first shift) is the actual copy.

Did you ever make paper dolls as a child? You had to make sure you cut out the bit you didn’t want to see – rather than the bit you did? Well this is a bit like making two inverse paper dolls at the same time. You have, basically, two stories in one document and you are armed with a web-only shortcut and a print-only shortcut. You need to make the print story fit, but the cuts that you do in order to achieve that don’t need to be removed from the web version. And the web version is going up today, so all of the dates happening on the day of writing need to read “today”, whereas the print version is coming out tomorrow, so the day of writing needs to be referred to as “yesterday”.

It’s really hard. You’re making three lots of cuts (notes mode too, for things that shouldn’t appear in either story) at the same time, and trying to envisage how it would look in each format. I got a bit carried away, to be honest – I had no idea to what extent these tools should be used. One of the revise subs came and said to me afterwards that I should only really web-only whole paragraphs or sentences because otherwise it’s too difficult to check. I’m not surprised – the galley view looked crazy after I’d been at it! So although I was disappointed to have done it wrong, I’m also relieved that it’s not supposed to be done to that level of intricacy. I also got mixed up with the byline – I should have made it print-only, as the web has a separate field for the byline. Instead, I made it web-only, which would have meant there were two bylines online and none at all in the paper. D’oh.

Eagerly I went to look up my first ever Guardian web story this morning – and to my horror, it’s not quite right.  I’ve owned up, so perhaps it will be corrected soon, but see it here for yourselves. I seem to have got confused at the end of the first par, and where I wanted to put “Afghanistan” in notes mode and replace it with “there”, instead I’ve put it in web-only, so both appear. It also looks as though I’ve used the wrong dashes throughout – evidently the shortcut I use at The Grocer doesn’t do the same thing at the Guardian.

I guess it’s a good lesson in humility – and I shouldn’t expect to get it right first time. But I do wish I had…

Anyway. Today is the first day of my substitute weekend, so time to stop tutting at myself and get out in the sun!



  1. What is the Guardian’s policy on allowing comments on an article? Is it just the blogs that have it enabled?

    Comment by Michael Reed — May 24, 2010 @ 10:06 am | Reply

    • I’m afraid I’ve only just worked out where the toilets are – no idea! It’s definitely not just the blogs, but I don’t know anything about the policy.

      Comment by substuff — May 24, 2010 @ 10:12 am | Reply

      • People who work at the Guardian go to the toilet? Fascinating.

        Comment by Michael Reed — May 26, 2010 @ 9:21 am | Reply

        • I only said I had found the toilets – I make no comment on the usage thereof!

          Comment by substuff — May 26, 2010 @ 10:31 am | Reply

  2. Sounds really fun. Which layout program does The Guardian use?

    Comment by Amanda Ellis — May 24, 2010 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

    • Yes, very good fun. It’s laid out in InDesign, with the subs (and others presumably) using InCopy. It’s all fed through a content management system called Octopus.

      Comment by substuff — May 24, 2010 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  3. Aha, I thought it sounded like an InCopy setup. I love InCopy.

    Comment by Amanda Ellis — May 24, 2010 @ 10:13 pm | Reply

  4. Just found the blog and loving it…Good work and good luck in the new job!

    Comment by Sarah Warwick — May 25, 2010 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  5. I don’t know how it works in InDesign, but one tip that might be useful is to put the whole submitted document in notesmode first, then paste an un-notesmoded copy of it on top and edit that version properly (cutting, not notesmoding), so that you have one clean version and a full unsubbed version in notesmode to return to when you do it for a different medium. Does that make sense?

    Comment by Paddy — May 26, 2010 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

    • It does – but if the story has to be one dual-purpose document then I don’t see how it would work… you’re basically talking about making two documents, aren’t you? I do like the Guardian’s system – it’ll just take a while to get used to I think!

      Comment by substuff — May 26, 2010 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

  6. Oh dear, it’s now been corrected, but not, erm, correctly. Now says “fighting in there” instead of “fighting there”.

    Comment by substuff — May 27, 2010 @ 6:01 am | Reply

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