Back in April, I wrote about my experiences subbing for a one-off 16-page newspaper. I enjoyed it so much that after graduation, I decided I would try to get some more subbing experience. I was really lucky and landed 5 weeks of shifts at a national newspaper on the news subs desk. I’m now 3 weeks into that and I’m really enjoying it so I thought I would share a few things that I have learnt.
1. Grammar is really important
Before I started working as a sub, I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of grammar. I did well at English Language A Level, and I have to confess I am a bit of a grammar nazi – especially when it comes down to things like using the correct there/they’re/their. But I’ve realised over the last few weeks that my knowledge of grammar is nothing in comparison to that of some of the people I’ve been working with. So, I have resolved to brush the dust off those grammar books that have been taking up space on my bookcase for a number of years and try to improve my grammar.
2. The style guide is a sub’s best friend
Every publication has a set way of doing things. Different ways of writing dates or whether you say “in Oxford Street” or “on Oxford Street”. And all of those things will be detailed in their style guide. I’ve found this the most useful thing while I’ve been working. It’s saved me having to ask someone else on numerous occasions as I could just check the style guide and work out how something is supposed to be written – for example, using Second World War instead of World War Two. And if you’re interested, The Telegraph Style Book and the Guardian Style Guide are available online.
3. Writing headlines for newspapers is really hard
I mentioned this when I wrote about subbing in April, but it’s true. And this time around it’s even harder because the layout is set in stone so my headline has to fill the box that has been drawn for it, I can’t just change the layout to match a really great headline. In comparison, SEO headlines for online are relatively easy but it’s just about getting your keywords in so that people will find your piece when they search. But newspaper headlines have to be interesting and informative and not just say what your intro says, which is where I really struggle.
4. Never delete copy
Now, I’m proud to say I don’t speak from personal experience here. But I think it is worth mentioning. The system I use at work makes it really easy to not have to delete copy as we put anything we want to get rid of into “notes mode”. This means it’s not visible on the page, but is still visible on the system and can easily be put back in if the layout changes or if you change your mind. However, I know from using Quark at uni that not all software does that kind of thing very easily. So what I would recommend if you’re using Quark (or any other software where you would have to delete copy to make it fit the layout) is to keep a copy of the full article in a Word document. Don’t use the original when you’re subbing or you could very easily lose it and end up a line short and not know what you could add back in.
And one more, slightly less to do with journalism:
Subbing can mean long nights. If you’re not a night owl, I really wouldn’t recommend going into subbing. I thought I would be ok with working evenings as most of my work for my degree was done in the early hours of the morning but it’s been quite hard at times. And the shifts I’ve been doing don’t even finish that late – I’m all done by 9pm. But then I have to get the train back out to Essex, which means most days I don’t get home for another hour and a half because of the timing of the trains. So, if you’re more of a morning person who finds it hard to work once the sun goes down, subbing at a daily probably isn’t for you.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look