So here are some details about how the Express is going to manage without subeditors.
It’s the old Northcliffe dream; reporters are sent a box, write their story to fit and craft a headline, remembering to include all the relevant copy commands. Job done.
But then there’s a team of ‘rewriters’ who’ll check the story and make any necessary changes, and the lawyers, who’ll make sure no-one can sue Dicky Desmond for any of his hard-earned cash.
No mention of what kind of journalists these ‘rewriters’ will be (or what they will do with overwritten copy that fills a box but could really do with 200 words trimming from it) but surely they’ll have to be subs? Subs in disguise, maybe, but subs none the less.
Which makes the whole exercise seem entirely pointless. Wordy, flabby, overwritten leads are more likely to make the paper. Reporters will have more to do. Half of what they’ve done will be redone anyway by the rewriters – or it won’t and the rewriters will do themselves out of a job.
I suppose we should be glad they are keeping rewriters (who are no doubt cheaper than subs and there will be less of them).
But there needs to be someone between the reporter and the reader.
I’ve been a reporter. I’ve been a news editor. Sub-editors changing ‘my’ copy annoyed me immensely. I knew what my story was and I was going to write it my way.
But as a trainee I learnt how to write for newspapers by studying how the subs edited my words; for clarity, for brevity, to pull the reader in.
As a news editor the fiery arguments I had with the chief sub made me look at my stories differently. Sometimes I came round to agreeing with him. Sometimes he agreed with me. But everything was debated. Is it worth its place? Have we got the right angle? Are we being fair?
As a reporter or news editor it’s easy to see a story one way. Your way. Deadlines, a fondness for a particular contact or angle, your own beliefs – they all play a part in how we construct our stories and it’s foolish to think they don’t.
As a sub it’s my job to reconsider those angles. I wasn’t always right when I sat on the other side of the fence and I’m not always right now. But it’s important to spark that debate.
As I’ve said before, we’re not just cut-to-fit monkeys.