5‧Time to add the finishing touches

5‧Time to add the finishing touches

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Brian Wang
After learning all about life at a newspaper office and doing a lot of hard work, Jason Yip's article is finally published.

Jason Yip is so excited, he can hear his heart beating above the roaring sound of the printing presses. Any second now, the first copies of tomorrow's Young Post will come down the conveyor belt, with the story he wrote on their covers.

But as he catches a glimpse of the front page, Jason can't believe his eyes. He twists forward to read more clearly.

'Student's story rejected by YP!' the headline announces.

As a shocked Jason stares at this terrible news, an alarm bell starts to ring. He turns towards the sound, just in time to see a huge roll of paper tumbling towards him. Jason tries to hurl himself out of its way, but it's too late. He falls and falls, until ... he crashes onto the floor beside his bed.

Rubbing his eyes, Jason wonders why, if that was all a horrible nightmare, the alarm is still ringing. By the time he's realised the sound is his phone ringing, the caller has hung up. But she's left a message.

'Hi, Jason. Just read what you sent in last night. You'd better come into the office, we've got a lot to do,' says Young Post editor Susan Ramsay.

Jason breathes a huge sigh of relief. His story about the destruction of a rare species of tree, which is used in the manufacture of a treatment for teenage spots, hasn't been rejected.

By the time he arrives at the South China Morning Post offices, Susan's already checked his copy and she can see no big problems with it. (Copy is the word publishers use for a piece of writing.)

However, the smile on his face doesn't last long. Susan goes on to say she can also see that his sub-editor will find plenty of details that will need to be expressed differently.

But first, Susan takes him to see Wai-Yee Man, the Young Post designer who will be doing the layout for his page.

'When I'm designing a page, my main responsibility is for the way it looks,' she tells Jason. 'A designer aims to draw the reader into the page visually, using the layout of the words, headlines and images.'

These images can be photographs or illustrations, and Wai-Yee tries to keep them as large as possible.

'A page that's just full of words will turn readers off,' she explains.

Jason is very proud of two of the photographs he's taken for his story. The first one shows the spot cream company chairman holding up a tube of the acne ointment. In the other, the leader of the tree-saving campaign points at a map.

Unfortunately, Wai-Yee doesn't think these are going to appeal to the paper's sophisticated readership. Has Jason got any others?

'Action in photographs will draw our readers in,' she adds, 'whereas complicated and detailed photos don't tend to work.'

A disappointed Jason shakes his head - those were his best shots.

Wai-Yee reassures him. They've got a little time before the deadline, and she's sure they can come up with a great illustration.

While Wai-Yee goes off to see the newspaper's illustrators, sub-editor Karly Cox calls Jason over to her desk.

Although Jason's worried he might seem rude, there's something he's been wondering for a while. What exactly is a sub-editor? And what do they do?

'A sub's job is to take a piece of writing and polish it until it's as good as it can possibly be,' explains Karly.

'And what does that involve?' asks Jason.

Karly can reel off a list. 'Checking the story makes sense, and is structured in a way that makes it easy and enjoyable to read. Making sure the spelling and grammar are correct. Checking any facts or names are correct. Editing the story so it's the right length ...'

Subs also have to make sure any claims made by the reporter are backed up with a quote or a reference, she adds. Oh, and they usually come up with a headline that aims to grab the readers' attention, and a subhead, or summary, of the story.

'So, does my story need much subbing?' Jason asks nervously.

Besides the simple corrections Karly can make herself, she thinks some information could be expressed in a better way, to give more background to the reader.

Once Karly explains what she means, Jason immediately sees that what she is suggesting will improve the story.

Jason is relieved to find there are people like Karly to make sure his story is good enough to be published. But it's still disappointing to find parts of it will have to be changed.

He wonders how the professionals cope with this. Doesn't it hurt a little?

'I'm not that concerned about the style or wording, only about the accuracy of the information,' says reporter Zoe Mak.

And since the piece will have her byline, or name, above it, Zoe is careful to read it through after it's been edited.

As Jason leaves Karly to make the changes they've agreed upon, Wai-Yee calls him over. She's spoken to the illustrators and between them they've come up with an image to use with his story. How about a tube of ointment in the shape of a tree, with this "tree" being chopped down by an axe?

Jason thinks this sounds fantastic. But as he looks at the rough layout for his front page, he realises his original headline, 'A clear skin but not a clear conscience', just isn't going to fit. He'll have to trust Karly and the chief sub to come up with something equally fitting.

After the sub-editing is complete, and the layout finalised, Jason's front cover still has to be checked by the chief sub-editor and, once more, by the Young Post's editor.

That night, as Jason watches the printing presses rattle into life, he pinches himself to make sure this time he really is awake. And by the time he's handed the first copy of tomorrow's Young Post, he's almost shaking with excitement.

He may not have come up with the headline, 'A spot of bother', but the name underneath it is his. As he proudly reads on, Jason knows this is his story, and all his hard work has been worthwhile.

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