Production journalism

Production journalists are the sub-editors, proofreaders, video editors, graphics/layout designers and webmasters.

They are the ones who write the headlines, check the facts, optimise web stories to get them to the top of a search list and edit the highlights of the latest news bulletin. They are the essential second pair of eyes needed to catch an inaccuracy that may have slipped through the net.

To be a successful sub-editor you must be pedantic about spelling and grammar and fanatical about the correct use of punctuation. This is not an over-exaggeration; the best sub-editors are those who have a legendary commitment to fine detail. Do you know the correct use of the apostrophe? If you want to be a successful sub-editor you need to know the possessive and plural rules inside-out.

As well as sub-editing, production journalists are also required to get involved in page layouts, working out how best to lay out stories in a newspaper and deciding what images will help to illustrate the stories. If you have an eye for detail and a flair for design, this could be the job for you.

Many NCTJ accredited courses offer production journalism as a specialist option which teaches students key production skills for both print and online. These courses are listed in the accredited courses section of this website.

Case study: production
Ian Gilbert, sub-editor and designer, Oxford Mail shares his top tips from his experience as a sub-editor in both the UK and Australia.
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Ian completed his Preliminary Certificate at Lancashire Polytechnic - now UCLAN - before starting work as a reporter with the Uxbridge Gazette Series. After gaining his NCE (now NQJ), he moved to the Surrey Herald as assistant editor before moving to Australia. There, he worked for Melbourne daily broadsheet The Age as a sub-editor on news, arts and sport. On his return to the UK, he set up News Associates' Manchester NCTJ centre before returning to the newsroom, at the Oxford Mail.

He is now a freelance sub-editor and trainer, having previously also worked as a casual sub-editor on the Sunday Express and Guardian.

Ian said: "Being a good sub is about far more than learning QuarkXPress, or being a dour pedant. Good subs have a love of language and a feel for what the reporter is trying to say. The 'them and us' attitude has no place in the modern newsroom; nor does the jaded sub who revels in being a stick in the mud. If half the country watches The X Factor on a Saturday night, you better make sure you're across popular culture. Similarly, you ought to be sufficiently widely read to know if someone's misspelt Christopher Marlowe."

"Computer skills are important, as you're likely to be writing headlines for the web, but a good dictionary is still valuable." Ian works in a team of eight sub-editors and one designer. The Oxford Mail concentrates on Oxford city, with some news from across the county. The Oxford Times is Newsquest's weekly for the town, while a host of weekly titles cover regional centres such as Witney and Banbury.

Hints and tips

  • Be thorough with fact-checking - this applies to subs as much as reporters. A chief sub won't accept excuses if you've let a clanger through. Check with reputable sources such as the BBC 
  • Swot up on your media law - the assiduous sub may spot a contempt issue that's escaped the editor's attention
  • Be methodical about checking names - does the photographer's caption match the name in the copy?
  • Take a keen interest in your newspaper's style guide, whether on placement or working. It gladdens a sub's heart when trainees aim for consistency
  • Reporters: always read your copy once it's gone to print. Take note of how the subs may have made a story more succinct, or corrected points of style
  • Don't be lazy. If it takes only a quick phone call to double-check a fact, do it. Don't hold the page up by waiting for the probably overworked reporter