Destined for the Spike - Sub-Editors Will Struggle to Survive in Digital Age; Final Frontier: Sub- Editors on the Daily Mail in the 1 E S. Sitting at the Back, Facing the Camera, Is a "Boy" Waiting to Run Copy

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

Destined for the Spike - Sub-Editors Will Struggle to Survive in Digital Age; Final Frontier: Sub- Editors on the Daily Mail in the 1 E S. Sitting at the Back, Facing the Camera, Is a "Boy" Waiting to Run Copy


Byline: ROY GREENSLADE

MY OVERRIDING ambition as a cub reporter in the mid-1960s was to becomea Fleet Street journalist. For reasons I now forget I became convinced that thequickest way to get there was to become a sub-editor, a supposedly unglamorousbackroom job that often led on popular newspapers to the editor's chair.

The pop press revolved around the skills of subs. Though they didn't have theirnames in the paper, they wielded enormous unseen power over what was published.They rewrote and cut reporters' copy. They sorted out the legal problems. Theyput reporters under pressure with queries about their stories. Mostimportantly, they were the creators of memorable headlines.

I was proud to join their number and I can still recall my first Fleet Streetnight in 1969 sitting among men yes, all men in those dayswith rolled-up shirtsleeves tearing furiously at screeds of paper, spikingunwanted wire copy with one hand and brandishing a paste brush in the other.There were no green eye shades by then, but that image best conjures upmemories of us desk-bound hacks in the days of hot metal.

Needless to say, the relationship between the people who originated thematerialthe news reporters, feature writers and assorted columnistsand us subs was often less than cordial.

Within offices there was somewhat of a demarcation line between the two camps.

The separation of functions persisted once papers adopted computer technologyin the mid-1980s. Though several unnecessary barriers between the reporters andtheir published stories instantly disappeared with the removal of linotypeoperators, compositors, block makers and their sundry printing cronies, theinternal journalistic split remained, as it does in most newspaper officestoday.

But this final frontier is beginning to crumble. The London-based businessfreesheet City AM announced this week that it is planning to dispense with theservices of its eight sub-editors. That is far from a rogue decision. It chimeswith the view of David Montgomery, a former national paper sub who now runsMecom, a company that publishes 300 titles in five European countries. He tolda House of Lords committee in March that "the age of the sub-editor" was over.In the digital era, he said, such skills have been made redundant becausejournalistsmeaning reporters and writerscan now transmit their material ready for instantaneous publication, cut tolength and sensibly headlined.

Montgomery, who never courts popularity, also spoke of subs performing "humdrumtasks". That was deliberately provocative, of course, but it did not negate hissubstantive point. Is it time to cut out the middle man (and middle woman) andlet writing journalists do the honours instead? That may work well enough whenwriting for websites but, at a practical level, it doesn't appear likely tooccur in the newsprint versions of most national papers, both popular andserious. …

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Destined for the Spike - Sub-Editors Will Struggle to Survive in Digital Age; Final Frontier: Sub- Editors on the Daily Mail in the 1 E S. Sitting at the Back, Facing the Camera, Is a "Boy" Waiting to Run Copy
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