Subs go a wanderin’

Roy Greenslade talks about more subs losing their jobs. CITYAM are sacking their entire subbing team. I linked to the Orange County story earlier this week.

Jeff Jarvis talks about it here.

So I’d suggest that publications should put all their articles online before publication in wiki form and enable the public to edit and annotate them (you may choose which edits to take). Why would the public do that? Why do they make Wikipedia? They’re generous if you give them a chance.

I’m not quite sure how that would work. As Jonathan Este comments:

You might say that reporters can do all of that, but I have been around newsrooms for many years in both capacities and let me tell you right now, most of them can’t.

Not that reporters could not be trained to do so. But getting the public to edit material prior to publication sounds almost impossible. Who decides when it’s finished? Who decides when it’s good enough? Who decides what to leave out? If the publication was online only then fair enough, but print publications also have deadlines, and someone needs to make a call.

Roy gives his views on the subject in an article in the Evening Standard. He notes:

Lawson Muncaster, City AM’s managing director, says: “Having looked at how things work on the Continent, and drawing on my experience at Metro International, I believe the sub-editing function is obsolete. I believe writers can take responsibility for filing copy that is readable and correct with a headline. That’s why we’re going through the process [of letting subs go].”

On the other hand, his paper has hired more page designers, and they are sure to play a crucial role in easing the sub-editorial tasks for writers.

All written work, whether it be a novel, a poem or a news story, often benefits from a second, even third, eye. But the removal of subs doesn’t mean that copy will be published unread. Executive editors will still act as quality controllers.

I doubt that this radical step will happen overnight. Indeed, I think there will be a lengthy transition phase which is likely to involve some form of outsourcing.

I think that’s fair enough. Most of the subs I know, including myself, are also trained in page design. The skills are interchangeable. But as Greenslade says, written work benefits from a second (or third) eye. Greenslade also mentions the Independent’s outsourcing drive. But as far as I can gather, that outsourcing has not been as successful as hoped.

Disclosure: I am a sub-editor and page designer.

2 Responses to “Subs go a wanderin’”

  1. Cian says:

    “I believe writers can take responsibility for filing copy that is readable and correct with a headline”

    From somebody who has both subbed and written – admittedly not a hell of a lot of either – I’d have to disagree with Muncaster’s plans. It just sounds like shifting the workload over to reporters and designers (CityAM are hiring more page designers according to Greenslade).

  2. Dave says:

    But what of the reporters and writers who can’t string two comprehensible sentences together?