When you meet a reporter out and about and reveal that you’re a sub-editor, you might just catch a flash of fury in their eye, quickly subdued under frosty politeness. (After all, you write their headlines, and there was ‘that one time’ when one of your kin saved them from widespread mockery.) But that flash of fury? It’s justified. Because once upon a time, a sub messed up and made them look bad.
Further down in the article, the writer did spell it wrong, once. Or, possibly, they spelt it wrong three times and the sub corrected it twice and missed the third one. Either way, the sub then went on and wrote ‘hygeine’ in nice big letters in the caption… twice.
I nearly did this, fairly recently. In subbing my colleague’s article about prepositions, I added a sub-head that read: “So is it ever okay to end a sentence with a proposition?” Answers on a postcard. Luckily, we (okay, she) caught it before we published it.
Whenever I do something like that, I make myself go away and read that odious email by Giles Coren again. Because, over-the-top and petty though much of it is, it reminds me to be afraid, be very afraid. And when your job is striving for perfection, fear is a valuable tool.
Edit: a couple of people have said they hadn’t seen the Giles Coren thing before, so here’s the response from the Sunday Times sub-editors, too.