Tag Archives: word count

Subs are not cut-to-fit monkeys

In this column, Nick Clayton says:

For a start, websites don’t need subs, at least as they exist at the moment. The reason is simple. The key role of subs on newspapers is in getting words to fit a finite space whether that’s copy, headlines or captions.

Unlike a printed page, there is effectively no restriction on the size of a web page. If you want to run every word in the Bible in one place there’s nothing to stop you. In the interests of the reader there could be an editorial decision that no story should be longer than 700 words, but in terms of readability there’s little difference between say 500 words and 600 words. The missing hundred words won’t leave a space.

Even the most satisfying task of the sub, headline writing, is effectively rendered obsolete by the web. What are required online are labels that will be picked up by search engines, not clever plays on words.

He’s missing a fundamental point. Subs are NOT cut-to-fit monkeys. We rewrite. We pare back. We make better.

Copy is not cut just because it’s too long. It’s cut because the reporter has used ten words when two will do; repeated themselves, included quotes that mean nothing or phrases like this:

He said the ambulance took a long time to arrive. He said: “The ambulance took a long time to arrive.”

As for suggesting that web headlines don’t have to be interesting: he consigns us to a lifetime of unimaginative titles that consist of keywords, like this one from today’s Mirror: Army base ‘bully‘ film

And just two more examples:

The threat of rain did not dampen the spirit of a man who had unearthed a family link to the secret gardens recently discovered at the East Close Hotel.

That was the only mention of rain in the whole story.
And how about this?

BEAULIEU is still Beaulieuful according to Bank Holiday excitement seekers who surf the internet to find out where to go.

Internet search engine Ask.com rates the venue in the heart of the New Forest as number 21 in its top 25, according to the number of hits asking for information.

Top of the pops is Chester Zoo, closely followed by London Zoo and the Natural History Museum. The Tate Modern comes in ninth, Cornwall’s Eden Project at number 15, Legoland at 17 and the London Transport Museum at 18.

Leeds Castle is next, followed by Paignton Zoo and then Beaulieu, which has its abbey, house and gardens, but more specifically the National Motor Museum.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu said: “Beaulieu was one of the first visitor attractions to open in this country over 50 years ago and it’s gratifying to see that in this modern age of the internet it remains one of the country’s most popular and best loved visitor destinations.”

The motor museum has 250 exhibits ranging from bicycles to cars, through to commercial vehicles.

And Beaulieu doesn’t lag behind the times either: the veteran bus that carries visitors around the grounds has recently been converted to run on recycled chip oil from the Brabazon Cafeteria, ensuring it is environmentally Beaulieuful.

A good sub would reduce that to three pars.

Unlimited space does NOT mean we shouldn’t care about quality.  I don’t leave stories long in the paper because I need to fill the hole – I sub it for value and workfrom there. That doesn’t stop being true just because there’s no box to fill. Every word should earn its place.


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