Monday, November 13, 2006

Super subs for a superhighway

Kim Fletcher hit the nail on the head with his Media Guardian story In praise of the sub editor about the importance of subs in new media.

He begins: The way those who understand the future explain it, the new media world is all about reporters; reporters who used to carry a pencil and notebook going round with digital recorders and cameras and filing words and pictures and voice reports and video clips and whatever they think of next, to any device that people might be using. Including, for a little while longer, newspapers.

He then turns his attentions to the "self-effacing gang that works behind the scenes" and, quite rightly, extols some of their virtues and the importance of their role in the digital age.

And so he should. He was in charge of the Telegraph web site at the time we (and others) were redefining what subbing was all about.

He'll remember well our (literally) minute-by-minute coverage of the devastation caused by the Gujarat earthquake, the downfall and political fallout that followed Peter Mandelson's resignation from government and the hundreds (again literally) of times we updated on 9/11. And all without a reporter in sight.

In the pre-podcast days when nerds blogged and reporters searched telephone directories and A-Zs, there simply wasn't time to indulge ourselves in the luxury of a newsdesk. News, when it broke, had to go by the minute - seconds in you were running a ticker - and go and go again as events changed.

Our sources were the wires, the statements that dropped on to official sites, the shorthand notes from the survivors on live TV and the mass of background info available in an instant to anyone familiar with the logic of George Boole.

Whether you're a multi-national broadcaster, a national daily newspaper or a local weekly, the web is a level playing field when it comes to breaking news and readers will follow the links to those that break it first.

I'd been a Fleet Street sub for 15 years and subbed many running splashes, updating between editions and late into the night during events ranging from the Zeebrugge ferry disaster to the death of Diana. Many a time I'd hacked a new intro out of a late PA snap or worked in key quotes from Reuters so we could slip a page between editions.

It was only when I arrived online in 2001 that I realised there was a place for the printed word with no editions. Only impatient readers and a competition far wider and more diverse than a mere newspaperman could ever have imagined.

The only part of Kim's piece that made me double-take was his intro in which he referred to the way new ways of reporting are the talk of "those who understand new media".

If I didn't know him better, I'd suggest that was a subbing error.


Anonymous said...

Once a sub, always a sub. You’re all just frustrated reporters and this gives the backroom boys a way to grab the glory.

Anonymous said...

He also wrote "Newspapers have found it difficulty to recruit subeditors over the last few years". (In the print edition; it was corrected on the website.)

I almost burst my irony gland.