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.


  1. Anonymous2:26 pm

    First, Giles Coren continues to demonstrate that he's just Liam Gallagher with "A" levels, so pay him no mind.

    Second, having worked for a long time chopping and changing between writing and subbing, I've found the relationship to be exactly the same as the one between drivers and pedestrians: whichever category you happen to be in at the time, those in the other are invariably morons.

  2. Anonymous2:41 pm

    Same thing just happened to me.

    My contribution to 'So, how's your career going?' should of course have read:

    I'm rich and famous with an enormous penis.

    Don't know how the mix-up occured, but I can only apologise.

  3. I’m with Giles on this one. There’s nothing more annoying than a precious writer moaning about having his or her copy altered, but in this instance the sub has completely ruined a painstakingly built-up gag/pay-off line. It’s not much of one but that isn’t the point.
    Subs are always moaning about how crap and lazy and slapdash writers are; but subs can be crap and lazy and slapdash too. And this one clearly was in this instance.
    If I were Giles though I wouldn’t drink the proferred “peace offering” cup of coffee next time he visits the subs’ desk.

  4. Anonymous8:33 am

    That letter is the words of a very unpleasant character however justified his frustration is. I get them impression he'd be very easy to wind up in real life.

  5. Oh for goodness sake!

    I had to read the it three times before I could see a difference between the two - that's seconds of my life I'll never get back - I think it would've been better if he hadn't drawn attention to the fact that he appears to be precious knob.

  6. Sorry - there should've been an 'a' in there'

  7. Anonymous12:14 pm

    What a nasty little man he is. I don't see why any paper or website would bother reproducing such a load of self important tosh.

  8. Anonymous1:43 pm

    A weak joke (needed his explantion to understand it) defended in an offensive manner. You're not as witty (not the same as funny) as your father: get over it.

  9. I sympathise with Giles a bit but I'd have thought you could've anticipated trouble over that last line and added a note why it shouldn't be changed. The joke would've gone over my head too. Anyway I don't see the problem with leaving errors in. They don't interfere with my blog reading and in fact spotting them and working out what was meant is good mental exercise. And the bairn is gaert at wkinrog out slnipelg eevn tihs fkcued up.

  10. Anonymous3:13 pm

    my god! what an unpleasant little shitstorm. plus i think no one has pointed out the fact that both sentences are in fact, utter rubbish. why stop at removing just one word?
    and theres several spelling mistakes in that rant too, maybe you do need the subs after all eh giles?

  11. Who leaked the emails and why? It's all good publicity for the Times and Giles Coren, even if he does take a bit of a hit for behaving like a prissy bully. Some people like that sort of thing.

  12. I would imagine the subs leaked them in a "see what we have to put up with?" spirit.

  13. Anonymous8:28 pm

    "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."

    Newspapers evolve during the course of the day. A story that is destined for Page One at 4:00, may be moved to Page 5 by 8:00.

    Your 1200-word piece may well have been overtaken by events and probably had a limited shelf life. I would have thought it was better that your piece was published at 600 words, rather than not being published at all.

    From a former sub-editor.