Press sub-editors are the kings and queens of readability. Working in the world of print (newspapers and magazines) and online media, these eagle-eyed professionals use their attention to detail and understanding of language, punctuation and grammar to make sure news pieces and magazine articles are factually correct and devoid of grammatical errors.
Press sub-editors are also the proofreading superstars that define and maintain an in-house style and make every article read like an absolute dream. As a sub-editor, you’ll be a copy-editor, fact checker and headline writer all at once.
In some instances, you’ll also work on the page layout and design, positioning articles for maximum impact and adhering to the publication’s signature look.
Press sub-editors are employed by newspapers, magazines, news agencies and online news and current affairs websites. If you enter this profession, you’ll be reviewing news articles and magazine features for spelling, language and grammatical errors.
You won’t purely be working as a vigilant ‘mistake spotter’, though: you’ll also be responsible for making sure that all the written content flows naturally and follows the in-house style guide.
Press sub-editors also need to take the design of the publication into account, expanding or condensing articles to fit the assigned print space. Furthermore, you’ll be verifying facts and ascertaining that numeric data, quotes and any other material attributed to third parties are accurate, comply with copyright rules and don’t contain overt or implicit libellous content.
Some sub-editors are also in charge of finalising page layouts, including the placement of appropriate photographs, data tables and other graphics. Finally, you’ll be writing attention-grabbing headlines, subtitles and photo captions.
Salary & benefits
Press sub-editors working for small or medium-sized print publications are likely to receive starting salaries of around £15,000 to £20,000.
Alternatively, if you manage to secure a position with a large, national publication, you will be more likely to earn between £19,000 and £25,000.
With increased levels of experience, sub-editor salaries can rise to anywhere between £25,000 and £65,000 a year.
Sub-editors working for national newspapers tend to work in shifts, seven days a week, with early morning and late night working hours being common. The hours also depend on the number of editions published – after all, some newspapers print two or three editions a day.
Even if you work for a publication which is published on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, you will feel increasing levels of pressure as print deadlines get closer and closer. Consequently, you may have to work weekends and evenings occasionally to make sure targets are met.
Therefore, flexibility and the ability to work under pressure are essential for aspiring sub-editors.
While some employers take on recent graduates as sub-editors, it is a role typically taken up by people with prior journalistic experience. A degree (BA or MA) in journalism, English or another humanities subject is the preferred basic entry-level qualification.
It’s also advisable to enrol in a degree programme which is recognised by the professional bodies which administer and regulate the profession. In the UK, this falls within the remit of the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which offers courses designed exclusively for sub-editing.
A working knowledge of software applications, such as Photoshop, InDesign and QuarkXPress, is also important. Recruitment processes often include sub-editing tests, which involve proofreading, editing, rewriting and summarising news articles with a fixed word count.
Training & progression
Usually, press sub-editors will develop their proofreading and copy-editing skills by gaining hands-on experience. However, some may also enhance their expertise by participating in external or in-house refresher courses.
A few large employers also conduct graduate development programmes, but these are likely to be much shorter than similar schemes offered in other professions.
The typical career path of a sub-editor involves getting promoted into senior roles such as senior sub-editor, chief sub-editor, production editor and chief editor.
Other options for career progression include moving into freelance work, corporate communications for large companies, or other areas of journalism, such as reporting and feature writing.