Qualities and Functions of a Sub-editor

Prepared by

Lalon Chandra Singh


Editing is the most challenging fact of journalism. A good editors needs creative skills, command over the language, ideas to improve the copy, and correct judgment about how much importance should be given for a particular news item. The copy of the report has been improved by the sub-editor and is therefore easier to read and understand. Sub-editor is all about quality control in print journalism. The role varies depending on whether you are working in print, online or broadcast media. It is says that reporter write the paper (story), sub-editor make it.


Editor is a special post for a journalist. A person who edits a copy of a story is called an editor. An editor supervises the reporters and improves his reports for publication. An editor also plans about what to report, how to cover and the relative importance to be given to each story. Every newspaper will have a set of editors, like reporters. All editors are not of the same category. In a newspaper, the top post is that of a Chief Editor. Modern newspapers have editors for every section. The sports editor looks after sports news. The feature editor looks after the features section. Picture editors are in charge of photographers. Like that business editors look after business news etc.


Sub-editor is a person who collects reports from reporters and prepares the report to publish or broadcast. He also corrects and checks articles in a newspaper before they are printed. A big newspaper or magazine would employ several news/feature/sports editors assign work and edit a reporter/writers material for accuracy, content, grammar, and style.


It is customary to describe desired qualities of a sub-editor separately. To be a good sub-editor one’s must be an all-rounder. The qualities that must be present in a sub-editor are listed below:


News sense is the basic quality of newsmen. News sense is essential for a sub-editor. He has to have news sense or nose for news to distinguish news from non-news. He is the first reader of a reporter’s copy and if the reporter has made a mistake he has to correct it. A bad copy may have the most important element of the story buried in the fourth paragraph. It will be left to the sub-editor’s nose for news to bring that to the first paragraph. He should be able to compare various news values and decide where to begin his story and should not miss important details.


A sub-editor should have clarity of mind and expression. A person who is confused himself cannot tell a story to others. Only clarity of mind is not enough unless it is accompanied by clarity of expression. Without clarity of expression clarity of mind has no meaning. Sub-editor is the judge of clarity of the copy a good sub­editor will never allow a copy escape him unless the meaning is crystal clear. He has every right to make life miserable for a reporter who is not clear and does not write in simple language.


A sub-editor should always be alert while dealing with his subjects. Many major news breaks in the past were possible because of alertness of reporters. Scoops don’t walk into newspaper offices alert reporters catch them in air and pursue. A sub-editor has to be alert while working on news-desk. Lack of alertness of a sub-editor can be seen by readers in the morning for he will be leaving or introducing mistakes for everybody to see.


A person who cannot work fast cannot be a good sub-editor. A sub-editor has to work with speed. He cannot sit with a copy for long. He has to do swiftly whatever is required of him for a lot more copy is waiting for him. He should think fast, decide fast and write or type fast for he has to meet deadlines or may have to go to another assignment. A slow sub-editor is a curse at the news desk and is treated with contempt. Some people are misfits in the profession.


Sub-editors should have an insatiable curiosity. This characteristic will keep on improving a sub-editor for with every passing day a curious sub­editor will have a better background to do his job the next day. Reporters and sub-editors should read as much as possible to constantly improve their awareness level.


Sub-editor must be a bi-focal mind. By bi-focal mind we mean that a person observe a fact in two ways one from very close and other far from sight. It means that the sub-editor should have the ability to catch any mistake in a story.

When he take a copy of a story firstly he follow the visible mistakes, this is called very near mistake. For example, ‘Chapy Nobabgonj is the capital of mango in Bangladesh’ here contain spelling mistake, the correct spelling is ‘Chapai Nawabgonj’.

The second mistake is ‘The largest mangoes hut sits in Shivganj district’. Here Shivganj is not a district, it is a sub-district of Chapai Nawabgonj. The sub-editors should ability to face this type of mistake. In general sense this is called bi-focal mind.


It is another necessary quality which a sub­editor should cultivate. He should not take anything for granted. He should have an unwavering posture of doubt until faced with undeniable proof. Reporters should be more vigilant for many forces constantly try to use them, and through them their paper. Many people try to plant on reporters a wrong story for their own ends. Sub-editors should also be careful for some clever politicians, public relations men and product advertisers keep on trying to take them for a ride. They should not fail to check even reporters, copy for such foul play.


Sub-editor should aim at objectivity while dealing with a story. They should not allow their personal bias or ideas to creep into a story. They should not take sides but try to cover all the different viewpoints to achieve balance in the story.


A sub-editor should strive for accuracy. He should check and re-check his facts till he is satisfied that he has them accurate. The role of a sub-editor is to check for accuracy. It is particularly important when background is involved. In the case of dates and names the reporter may rely on his memory but the sub-editor must check them from reference material available in the newspaper office. When there is a doubt he should leave it out—this is the golden rule of journalism. It is better not to say a thing than to say it wrong.


It is a good habit. It is always better to be punctual and then wait than reach late and ask others—a rival may misinform you or hide some important information. At the desk too punctuality pays. If a sub-editor is punctual he will be treated with respect by his co-workers. If he is late he will irritate them and spoil the working atmosphere. Besides he may have to face the problem of backlog of copy which he will have to clear under the pressure of deadline.


All other things being equal reporters need additional qualities to deal effectively with all sorts of people they meet in the field. Sub-editors should have better command over language as they improve what reporters write. An intelligent envisioning of the future helps newsmen in general. The quality helps them in identifying processes and people who will be important in future. The sub-editors should keep up-date information and vast knowledge about home and abroad. Keep up to date with sector issues, by reading related publications. Adapt all these skills for a publication’s website.



A report should be credible. Before writing or editing, the sub-editor should crosscheck the facts and figures. Mistakes can creep in when work is done in haste. It is always better to revise the copy before sending to publish or broadcast. If the story can be improved, it should be rewritten.


This basic mental faculty helps reporters in writing better stories that retain the reader’s interest. For a sub-editor this creative faculty is very useful as he can add sparkle to somebody else copy and make it lively. Besides, imaginative headlines attract the reader and improve the quality of a newspaper.


A sub-editor should be tactful. He should have the ability to handle sensitive people and situations gracefully without causing hurt or angry feelings. He should be considerate of others and should be careful not to embarrass, upset or offend them. He should have an understanding of human behavior and emotions. This will help him in developing contacts that are so essential for news gathering & writing.


One can achieve a degree of proficiency in sub-editing or reporting by systematic effort and self-control. In this sense self- discipline suggests dedication and firm commitment. It helps in journalism as in any other field.


Sub-editors often work in trying circumstances. They have to remain calm and composed in most exciting and tragic circumstances. In many situations they have to be calm— devoid of hysterical actions or utterances and apply appropriate mental and physical effort to write or edit the story. Reporters and sub-editors are human beings. They have emotions but they have to stifle them in the face of disturbing influences—they have to develop resistance to excitability. Sub-editors should develop a temperament to work under pressure of deadlines. They should not lose their cool if they are behind the clock for calm mind can work faster.


These qualities help sub-editor in asking unpleasant questions and taking risks to find out truth. Nobody gives a story on a platter. He will have to probe, question, authenticate and exercise his power of deduction to write a good story.


Sub-editors should be diligent. Their jobs require painstaking exertion of intense care and effort, alertness and dedication to the task and wary watchfulness. They have to make extremely fine distinctions while writing or editing copy a sub-editor should insist on perfection and should lose his job for he can make or impair the newspaper. These qualities are basically qualities of good and efficient human beings. Good and efficient human being makes good and efficient sub-editors and reporters.


It is a virtue in itself and implies undeviating honesty and strict adherence to a stern code of ethics. This human quality is important for journalists. It is more important for reporters for they are more exposed to temptation as compared to sub-editors.


Sub editing is a practice that involves correcting any mistakes in an article and enforcing efficiency. Like other journalism roles, sub-editing is demanding and requires constant attention to detail within a fast-paced working environment. Sub-editors work on national and local newspapers, magazines and online publications. The functions that must be done by sub-editors are listed below:

In general the sub-editors perform the following three functions in which almost all the sub-editors functions are included.


Sub-editor edits copy, written by reporters or features writers, to remove spelling mistakes and grammatical errors then construct a develop story. The reporter’s job is to write the story as quickly as possible with all the facts and figures. In their hurry, they may not be in a position to polish the language. So the first job of a sub editor is to see that the report is in good language and there are no mistakes. There can be spelling mistakes, mistakes in sentence construction, grammar and factual mistakes. If the sub editor finds a portion of the report ambiguous or incorrect or doubtful he has to cross check it with the reporter. Edit reports and press releases.


The sub editor then has to find a good headline for the story and writing headlines that capture the essence of the story or are clever or amusing. The headline should be sharp, attractive, crisp and convey the spirit of the story. The headline should compel the reader to stop and read the whole story.

While writing the headline, a sub editor should know the space available for the story, whether it is one column, two columns or three etc. The headline should fit within that column. While writing the heading, it should fit into the mood of the story. A sarcastic headline for a hard story will look odd. Similarly a hard-line headline will spoil the spirit of a humorous piece. The headline should also be suggestive. It should never be a full sentence.


Sub-editors are responsible for overseeing the content, accuracy, layout and design of newspaper and magazine articles and making sure that they are in keeping with house style. Every media house has its own policy and ethics. The media house contains and maintains their own goals, rules, and regulation. Every media follows their several news, advertisement, and page makeup policy. They oriented by their own policy. So the sub-editor should follow and fulfill the in house policy.

Without these three functions there are various significant jobs that are perform by sub-editors are remarks below:-


Page layout or page make up is an art. Each newspaper has a different layout though all have eight columns in each page. Types or fonts used by newspapers also differ from paper to paper. Every sub editor has to learn the typefaces available in the paper and the layout pattern adopted. Preparing the page of the newspaper is called page making. Earlier sub editors used to do it on dummy pages. Now a day they are doing it on the computer screen.

Picture editing also involves placing the picture in the correct position in the page. It is part of the page layout. Usually in the front page, only very important news pictures will find a place. He must have noticed from this that the headlines are not of uniform type. The type, or font, of the letters in each headline differs according to the length and width of the column. A sub editor should also know about the font sizes available. Each paper has its fonts and types. Ensuring that, stories are the right length and correctly placed on pages.


The sub editor now has to see if there is a possibility for including photographs along with the news item. Pictures or graphs can improve the visual quality of a report. Photography is an integral part of the media.

Whether a newspaper or news weekly or news channel or a news portal, photography is essential to give it the visual impact, effect and authenticity. It is said that a good picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes one picture is enough to explain the mood of a situation or an event.


When you see a photo in the newspaper you look for what is written under it. This writing under a photo is called the catchword or caption. When photographers file photos, it is the job of the sub editor to write the appropriate caption. Cropping photos and deciding where to use them for best effect, and writing picture captions. A good caption can improve the impact of the picture.


Condensation is a task that the sub editor has to do. Reporters generally file lengthy stories. Only the sub editor will be able to know about the availability of space in the newspaper. If the full story written by a correspondent will not squeeze into the space available, it is the job of the sub editor to condense it by rewriting or editing. If one word can substitute for a number of words that definitely should be done.


Rewriting material needs that it flows or reads better and adheres to the house style of a particular publication. Ensuring that, a story fits a particular word count by cutting or expanding materials as necessary. Checking facts and stories to ensure they are accurate, adhere to copyright laws, are not libelous or go against the publication’s policy. Working to a page, plan to ensure that the right stories appear in the correct place on each page. If the sub-editor find any mistakes in a reporters copy he should correct the copy. If he think that the story needs to add some information or develop the story then he should re-write the story.


The next job of the sub editor is to value add the report. If some background material has to be added, he has to collect it from the library and improve the story. For example, if a report is filed on a train accident killing ten people, the sub editor can improve the story by collecting information about other major train accidents that happened recently.



Another important decision an editor has to take is about giving a byline or credit to the story. Normally bylines are not given for particular stories. But if a reporter files an exclusive story then it should appear with his byline or name so that he gets individual credit for the story. The decision of giving a byline to a reporter for a particular story is taken by the news editor. But a sub editor who edits the story can always suggest to the news editor about giving that story a byline.


Proofreading complete pages produced by other sub-editors using the main basic proofing symbols. Checking facts and stories to ensure they are accurate, adhere to copyright laws, are not libelous or go against the publication’s policy. When a news ready to go for publication the sub-editor should check the spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on.


Translation a copy is a vital job for the sub-editor. To translate the news story is a significant function of a sub-editor. There are many news sources, news agencies and institutions around the world from where the news media collect information to publish or broadcast. This type of information usually written in English. Besides this the press note, press releases are almost publish in English. The sub-editor needs to translate these types of information for the readers benefit.


Editing is a process by which a report is read, corrected, modified, value added, polished, improved and made better for publication. Condensation is also part of editing. The editor also decides whether photographs or other images or graphs should be used along with the report

Sub-editors are journalists or designers responsible for overseeing the content, accuracy, layout and design of newspaper and magazine articles and making sure that they are in keeping with house style. Now we can say that, the sub-editors are responsible to the house performing various functions. Besides sub-editors should cultivate some qualities that, make him for the competitive media world.

Following books and links are used to prepare this note

Warren,Carl: Morden News Reporting.

B.N. Ahuja & S.S.Chhabra; Editing.

Rahman, Jawadur ; News Editing.

Gilmore, Gene; Modern Newspaper Editing, University of Illinois.






Published by

Lalon Chandra Singh

Lalon Chandra Singh Department of Mass Communication & Journalism Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur.

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