A cost-cutting move to axe copy-subs at Northcliffe Media has prompted around 30 immediate posts on journalism website holdthefrontpage (HTFP), ranging from furious to despondent.

Much of the anger on HTFP is directed at Northcliffe’s idea that reporters can take up the sub’s reins and write stories to predetermined length directly on the page.

A post by Hard Working Sub was typical: “What is really depressing is the quality of copy we receive from the young reporters who are practically illiterate. Never have subs been more needed and never have they been more undervalued.”

The idea that subbing is just about cutting copy to fit is far from reality.  A sub hones rough copy into a coherent, flowing whole to get the best out of a reporter’s words. They maintain a publication’s quality and reduce the threat of legal action by:

  • Rewriting copy so it makes sense
  • Spotting errors before they’re published
  • Making sure copy flows properly, reads clearly and makes sense
  • Amending copy without changing the original writer’s style
  • Writing headlines and ensuring they fit the story.

To prove a point, I’ve looked back at some of the copy I’ve subbed recently. These are typical of the horrors a sub will catch:

  • Potential sub judice
  • Incorrect use of apostrophes
  • One reporter who used no apostrophes at all
  • Malapropism
  • An angle in the first par not followed through
  • Repetition
  • Cliché
  • Wrong use of hyphenation
  • Verbiage.

And that’s all from a brief scan of recent work.

Subs have always been an easy target for cost-cutting and this is not the first time, nor will it be the last. But it’s almost always an expensive cut too far.

Where is publishing without subs? In court most likely.