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Thursday, July 24, 2008

When hacks go crazy subs run and hide

All hacks feel a bit injured when the subs have changed their copy, whether in a wholesale or a minute fashion, but Giles Coren's latest rant at "The Times" subs won't be getting much sympathy from me. This is not just because it goes in for the kind of abuse that will probably have disturbed the sleep and domestic contentment of some of the people to whom it's addressed.

It's always difficult to know what is the correct etiquette here. If it's a giant error you can get on the phone and sound wounded but you're painfully aware that this is after the horse has bolted. If it's a tiny error the problem is you'll sound like a pedant with nothing better to do.

I have written the odd thing where I was aware enough of the chances of something going wrong that I've asked to check it on proof myself. But occasionally the cock-up is so massive and the chances of anyone on the outside noticing so minute that I haven't had the heart for the conversation. Drawing people's attention to their lack of professionalism only embarrasses me.

I did something for a national newspaper not long ago. They asked for 800 words. I wrote exactly that number and submitted it. Then, in a planetary first for journalism, they asked me to make the piece longer. I added as much as they wanted, making the piece 1,200. When the piece ran they had mysteriously cut it to 600.

This would have been annoying enough if they had taken this much out of the original. To do the same damage to the extended piece was vandalism. Now believe you me, I'm not precious. I am Hacko McHack of the Ancient Tribe of Hacks in the County of Hackshire and I'll spit in the eye of anyone who impugns our tribal honour. Plus I am a stout believer in Doctor Johnson's advice that you should read back what you have written, identify your favourite bit and then "strike it out". However I'll be buggered if I'll have the striking out done by somebody because they're incapable of doing a bit of elementary space planning.

"I'm sorry about that," they always say. "We'll pay you for the full thing." As if.