Tag Archives: Subediting

The ‘one’ that’s not needed


Ever wonder why subediting becomes monotonous over a period of time? Well, that’s because the subs get to edit and rewrite much the same stuff each day. Their creativity hardly comes into play.

However, some of the world’s top newspapers have shown newspaper reading and writing can be an interesting and educating experience. These papers, among other things, really care about their language.

Talking locally, our editors and subs need to rethink their usage of sentences like, “Police arrested one Mohammad Aslam … Disappearance of one Yasin Shah …,” and so forth.

Using ‘one’ with the name of an unknown common man in news stories is an old-school practice some of our senior editors insist on.

This does not read well. Seeing this construction in Dawn yesterday, I asked the Guardian style editors about it and here’s what they said:

“‘One’ with someone’s name, eg “I had a tweet from one Arsalan Altaf, is at best patronising and at worst downright insulting.”

Asked whether we should avoid it, they said: “Unless you actually want to insult someone (‘the chancellor, one George Osborne…’).”

So the editors better keep their sentences short and sweet, and not insult the people they write news about.

Here are the six elementary rules of good writing from George Orwell’s 1946 essay on “Politics and the English Language”:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

(The piece originally appeared at JournalismPakistan.com here.)


Express Tribune shows the way


The Express Tribune is the first ever newspaper in Pakistan that has developed a style guide to be followed by its reporters, writers and editors. Other newspapers and media outlets here either have no specified style or they follow some foreign style book at best.

The prestigious Dawn newspaper, however, is said to have an internal style manual but some members of the staff are unaware of it. Neither is it publicly available.

The institution of style guide is important to maintain the quality of language at a publication. “The good thing about a style guide is that it’s always right. It’s your view on how things should be done,” writes Ian Jolly, style editor at the BBC.

While there are different, and sometimes contradictory, styles in use at various media houses, consistency can only be achieved if a publication religiously follows a specific style. Otherwise, their reports will keep alternating between, for example, programme/program, fuelling/fueling and so forth.

The Express Tribune has, once again, taken a lead over other publications in Pakistan to compile a brief yet impressive style manual. The paper’s language is less-clichéd than others’ is, and with an exciting design and a thriving online presence, it is shaping the future of print journalism in Pakistan.

“Our print and web editions have made their mark on the media scene not only because of distinctive design but also quality of its content. To continue to work towards maintaining these standards, we thought it best to publish our style book,” writes Kamal Siddiqi, the editor, in the introduction to the style guide.

“It has always been our practice to set standards in the media industry. And this book will help clear the path for others to follow.”

As a keen reader of this paper, I can tell the editor that they have been quite successful at setting standards in print journalism in this country. However, the challenge for The Express Tribune is to institutionalize the style guide and to constantly update it.

While other print and online publications should follow The Express Tribune’s lead, what the paper itself can do is to establish the institution of the readers’ editor. A readers’ editor addresses readers’ complaints. It is a self-regulatory mechanism to redress errors, whether editorial, factual, or ethical. The best example is the Readers’ Editor at The Hindu.

Another thing that our editors and institutions can greatly benefit from is the Guardian style guide on Twitter where Guardian’s style editors answer editing and style-related queries in a fun way.

(This write-up was originally published at Journalism Pakistan here.)