Worst-ever subbing jobs 1

Just been reading Richard Burton‘s recent posts. No, not that Richard Burton (t’would be difficult, he died in 1984 – I checked, hey I’m a sub, sue me!); but the other one, the former editor of telegraph.co.uk who’s been writing scary things about what subbing is all about.

His post highlighting the horrible turnaround times we lovely subs have to deal with in print reminded me of one of my worst subbing jobs ever: two weeks of casual shifts at the Birmingham Evening Mail. It was my first time on a daily and it was like jumping into a plunge pool – dive into the cold copy folder, sub it and get the hell out fast.

Bedtime for this evening paper had been pulled back to 9.30am so the first edition could hit newsagents by around 11am. Really it should have been renamed the Birmingham Brunch Mail.

All I remember is having 15 minutes to sub what seemed like the entire paper. It was the first time that I failed to read to the end of a story – just chop and hit file. If someone had written ‘c*nt’, ‘sh*t on the Villa’ or some libellous low-blow in the final pars, I’d have missed it. For the first time, I felt shame at a job badly done.

But worse was to come. The pressure, the deadline, the rising heat, the blank mind, bodycopy blurring, staring at the story as the seconds ticked by trying desperately to think of a headline for a page 2 story about a picture of a murdered woman being released. Three decks, 36pt, one word on each line. I had to put something, anything. Slowly the Xxxxs turned into words as the chief shouted at me for the story. How I always remember my sharp, insightful summation of the story:


Thank god for the revise sub who changed it to something with a verb in. I brushed up on my newspaper vocab after that and can now write ‘Bus crash probe chaos’ type headers along with the worst of ’em.

5 responses to “Worst-ever subbing jobs 1

  1. The only consolation about subbing nightmares like that is that you can usually laugh about them later. Admittedly, in some cases, it takes months or even years before you can finally see the funny side. My worst subbing nightmare was as a young reporter on a paper in Australia. Part of our training was to do “services” , which included subbing the TV pages, weather, aircraft and shipping movements, court information, that kind of thing. Don’t ask me how – it’s all a distant blur – but somehow we managed to print the same weather information two days in a row. Its seems trivial now, but at the time I felt as if my whole world had collapsed. As the annoyed telephone calls started to flow in, I did what any good sub would do – blamed it all on a “printer’s error”.

  2. So was the weather good or bad that day? 😉

  3. Probably the same as it was the day before. It’s a bit like that in Australia. In fact, I’m surprised anyone noticed…

    My first ever real-world experience of subs was at the same paper. The chief sub, whose name and face are indelibly imprinted on my memory, strolled up to our group of desks, contemptuously threw a piece of paper at no-one in particular and demanded to know “what c**t wrote this?” I’ve been terrified of chief subs ever since, even though I’ve been one myself. Which is as it should be.

  4. Just don’t get too far into newspaper speak or you find yourself writing real howlers, as my chief sub did when working on an Australia daily:



  5. That should have been Australian. Where’s the check sub?