The Opti Interview: Gnomon

1 Conversation

A magic biro

So you have submitted your Entry into Peer Review and it has been such a hit with fellow researchers that it has been agreed that your Entry should venture forth and become part of the Edited Guide. But just before your contribution hits the Front Page, you get a visit from a sub-editor! Does this spell disaster for your Entry? Will it ever live to make its début? Without further ado, let's welcome the much loved and respected Researcher Gnomon to find out.

Opti: Hello Gnomon, please pull up a chair and let us begin.

Gnomon: Hi Opti. It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the tea. smiley - tea

Opti: First things first, should we panic?

Gnomon: Definitely not! The sub-editor is not going to harm your work, but is there to tidy up your Entry and make it ready for publishing on the Front Page.

Opti:smiley - ok So what does it mean to be a Sub-Editor, for those not in the know?

Gnomon: It's not a very arduous task, but it's one that requires some skill in writing good English. The sub-editors are given batches of newly-picked Entries to tidy up. We work on copies of the Entries, rather than on the originals. Our copies then become the Edited Entries when they are published on the Front Page. We're required to complete an average of one Entry a week, which is not a huge workload. Usually, it is just a question of a quick read through the Entry, correcting any spellings that weren't spotted during Peer Review, checking that all the links point to Edited Entries, and a read through of the Peer Review conversation to make sure that any suggestions made there have been included. It's possible to sub-edit an Entry in about 20 minutes if there's not a lot wrong with it.

Occasionally, though, I'll be assigned a piece of work which takes a lot more time. This is usually because an author is writing about an interesting topic, which the Editors really want in the Guide, but it is obvious that the author will never be able to make all the corrections suggested in Peer Review; some people are dyslexic, or just disorganised. It would be a pity to reject their work just because of this, so this puts the onus on the sub-editor to rewrite the Entry to make it work. I've spent up to nine days working on one of these Entries. Of course, if a sub gets something like this and feels that he or she is not up to it, he can always hand it back to the Editors.

Opti: When did you become an Sub-Editor?

Gnomon: I've been writing Entries since 2000, but I only started being a sub-editor in August, 2007. Since then I've sub-edited 144 Entries.

Opti: What caught your attention first, when thinking about becoming a Sub-Editor?

Gnomon: I was always concerned that the time I spent sub-editing other people's work would take away from the time I had available for writing Entries myself, and to a certain extent it has done. But in mid 2007, there was a bottleneck in the production of new Entries. There were a reasonable amount being written but not enough sub-editors to process them. I reckoned that I would be able to do the job, so I applied for the post. Sub-editors are usually required to do a small test, to show they are capable of handling the task. I had written so many Entries myself, and done such a good job in Peer Review spotting problems in other people's Entries that the Editors gave me the job on the spot.

Opti: How have things changed since then?

Gnomon: I think that we've managed to clear the backlog in sub-editing. With the team of sub-editors we have now, we're more than capable of processing enough Entries to keep the Editors happy.

Opti: In recent months the number of entries appearing on h2g2 has been diminishing, why do you think this is?

Gnomon: In the early days of h2g2 there were five new Entries each weekday. With cutbacks in the number of Editors over the years, this was gradually reduced to three. Recently, however, we just haven't got enough people writing new Entries, and it has been necessary to publish two or only one new Entry each day, padding the Front Page with re-issues of old Entries to fill the space. This seems to be because people are put off the idea of writing new entries. I think there may be two reasons for this.

Firstly, the standard of Entries has improved enormously since the early days. Entries have become rather long and comprehensive, and some people don't feel they're up to the challenge. This is a pity, because there's still a place in the Guide for short Entries, as long as they're well written.

Secondly, Peer Review has got a reputation for being a scary place; this may be true, as it always scary to put your work up for evaluation by others. What if they don't like it? But the reviewers in Peer Review are actually very helpful. They're not interested in scoring points, just in improving your Entry. If your Entry is in any way suitable to be in the Guide, then the reviewers will give you the best possible advice on how to get it there.

Opti: What impact has this had on the Sub-Editor?

Gnomon: It doesn't have a huge impact on the sub-eds, but in general we've been processing the Entries faster than might have been done in the past. In the old days, the sub-editors might have taken a batch of four entries and returned them a month later. Now we want them done in a few days in order to keep the supply to the Front Page going. It has also led to the occasional entry which is Guide-worthy being picked even though it is not ready, which, as I mentioned earlier, means more work for the sub-editor. But I'm not complaining.

Opti: And finally, what do you see the future bringing when you look into your sundial?

Gnomon: The Stretcher competition has had some great results, causing people to write Entries which they probably would not have written otherwise. Unfortunately, it seems to be only a small group of writers. I'd like to see some initiative which got everybody writing. It's not difficult – the hardest bit is picking something suitable to write about. Once you've got that, just about anybody is capable of writing the bones of an entry, which, with advice from the reviewers, will become an Edited Guide Entry. I foresee a time when everybody will feel confident enough to do this.

We've had tantalising hints from the Editors of new developments on the site, but they're understandably cagey, as it all depends on being given money by the people higher up. So in the meantime, I intend to continue working to make this the best Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Opti: Thank you Gnomon for being such a great sport. May you long continue to enjoy all that h2g2 has to offer.

Gnomon: You're welcome. smiley - cheers

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