Can Oz compete in the outsourcing market?

Neighbours should be there for one another

Or have a look at this (now changed) photo caption written to accompany a report of famous English comedian Sir Norman Wisdom's death: “HRH the Queen meets Sir Norman Wisdom after the state opening of Isle of Wight Parliament Photo: PA”. There are three errors in that one sentence. Firstly, Sir Norman lived on the Isle of Man; secondly, the Isle of Wight doesn't have a Parliament (that's two errors in one); and it's HM (Her Majesty) the Queen, not HRH (Her Royal Highness, used for more minor female royals rather than queens).

This is a local shop for local people, there's nothing for you here

Friedrich Hayek's observation that much knowledge is local is one of the great problems of offshore editorial. I don't expect someone 12,000 miles away to have that sort of detailed knowledge of the strangenesses of English life: but it does seem odd to employ someone there whose job is to have such detailed knowledge.

We might even complain about more basic points such as this. Using a man's name five times in a piece and managing to spell it correctly only twice might be some sort of a record (although, to be fair, not an all-time record. One colleague once found eight errors of fact in just the first sentence of a Polly Toynbee piece).

I will admit that when I reviewed Professor Shiller's book for the same paper I got it wrong, but the subs back then did catch my error. Have a look at this teaser, now vanished into the archives: “Easter Island, Chile, and the South Pacific plunged into darkness.” Yes, they were talking about a solar eclipse, but that sort of vagueness (what, you mean we'll have to wait a whole 24 hours for nightfall to come again?) is what subs are supposed to root out.

And what are we to make of this quote from a Telegraph article on a penguin with melanism?

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the condition is the darkness in an animal’s skin, feathers, or fur is (sic) acquired by populations living in an industrial region where the environment is soot-darkened. It can be gene related.

It does, however, mean that the probability that its members will survive and reproduce is enhance (sic).

The condition evolves over the course of several generations.

But due to being lighter in colour, they become more conspicuous to predators.

It isn't immediately apparent that the subeditors of that piece spoke English as a first language: possibly not even as a second or third. Especially when they've copied the bit about moths in industrial England, rather than melanin-enhanced penguins in Antarctica where soot pollution is unlikely to be an issue.

On the other hand, we do have the occasional example of the famed vibrancy of the Australian version of English. The headline (very sadly later changed) to accompany the story of the firing of Sir David Nutt was: "MPs demand answers over Nutt sacking".

But then no self-respecting subeditor could possibly have resisted trying that one on.

My point, by the way, is not that Oz-based subs are crap or terrible (even the worst of these mistakes is still miles ahead of what Private Eye claims The Guardian once managed, which was to render their own masthead as The Grauniad with the assistance of home-grown on-site subs), it's rather that what can be offshored needs to be examined carefully. It may well be true that time zones, wage differentials, a common language and the rest can be the basis of a successful business. Quality will have to be, as in any business adventure, strictly managed – and perhaps where detailed local knowledge is required, even that won't be enough.

One final point: Muphry's Law. This is the law which states that any piece either correcting errors or complaining of them will contain more and greater errors than those being corrected or complained of. Even if Tom were still around to sub this, Muphry's Law would still win out. ®

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