Kano scandal shows how important subeditors are for news organisations

By Anna Aguilar
August 10 2020, 12.25

Recent mistakes on mainstream media have shown just how important subbing and fact-checking is in any news organisation.

The latest scandal was the Guardian’s incorrect use of a photograph of Kano in a column by Owen Jones on Wiley’s antisemitic tirade.

Kano called the Guardian out on Instagram, saying: “I’m the other black rapper from East London. ”

This follows the BBC’s mistake in January this year, when it used a clip of NBA player Lebron James in its coverage of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.

The high-paced stressful environment of the news industry can mean it is prone to mistakes, but lack of diversity is a key factor.

Hannah Hawkins, managing chief subeditor at Citywire, explains why having a diverse subediting team is crucial to avoiding these mistakes.

“Subeditors are an integral part of all news rooms, not just for enforcing style guides and perfecting copy but for ensuring language is used appropriately and sensitively,” she said.

“One of the implications of the latter purpose is that subediting teams should be diverse. Would an all-white, all-male Etonian news desk object to the use of the term ‘forced sex’ instead of ‘rape’, notice the mistaken identity of a Black basketball player or sensitively phrase a headline about council flat residents?”

The Guardian headline ‘Underage girl forced to have sex with Prince Andrew, court document claims’, also caused controversy.

Forced sex is not sex, but rape, and an underage girl is a child.

The headline also puts Prince Andrew in the passive, implying a third person forced the child to be raped by him – once you change sex to rape the mistake here is clear, as the sentence no longer makes sense.

No word is an island

Even one word can have a huge effect on a text. New Model Adviser reporter Laura Purkess pointed out a mistake on a Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) report, which assumed the ex-partner of a divorced client with the lowest income would be a woman.

The CISI quickly apologised and amended the report, changing ‘her’ to ‘their’.

The same way that using the wrong picture of a black man causes outrage because of a history of institutionalised racism, using language can reinforce misogynist history.

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