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.