There are two things here that I would like to address:
1> Subbing can be competently performed by people who have no especial link with a given paper.
I’d say adequately. Not competently. But here’s a thing. A good local paper stands for something. It has an identity.
And that identity will be one of our most valauble assets in bringing readers online and ensuring our survival.
Take away local subs, who care about and are proud of their pages, who know what the paper is and what its stance is on everything from how it reports suicides to in what context you can use the word interweb, and you take away part of that personality.
One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do at the Echo is build a sense of an online community. It’s one of the things the BBC radio brands do well – make you feel like they are a family and that you, by listening, are part of that family. That’s what we strive for.
So we have an avatar – the deck chair – that is more than just our masthead. We call the office Echo Towers, partly because I’m a bit of a geek, and partly because (I hope) it makes our Twitter followers feel like they’re getting the inside track.
We have a joke in paper about our TV columnist and her kitten heels. Our What’s On picture captions are legendary. Our sections have an identity and the people who sub them know what that id is and why it matters.
Our readers probably wouldn’t know the difference if that changed. But they’d know there WAS a difference.
Perhaps we should spend more time building newsrooms full of people that DO have a link to the paper.
Aside from the obvious advantages – obscure spellings of street names, knowledge of the history of stories and characters that can be invaluable – maybe there’s a more subtle, but more vital effect.
A paper readers can identify with. A product staff care about. Pride in your work. A sense of place. Readers notice when you spell place names or school names or surnames wrong. They know the backstory, and when you don’t they’ll happily point it out (while telling you how rubbish your paper is).
And who among us can claim that reader loyalty and brand identification won’t matter in the future? In the new age, newspapers will need to market themselves. Outsourcing or templating your subbing diminishes your brand. Slowly, maybe, and subtly, but it does. That’s why Roy’s wrong.
And point two?
This: “I am talking newsprint here, incidentally. It is noticeable that punning headlines work less well online and, of course, the page design is irrelevant.”
More follows in part three!