I subedit for the University of Melbourne mag, Farrago. Fortunately, I’m rarely asked to come up with titles. I find it a very enjoyable role. It’s so easy to make little tweaks that markedly improve others’ writing. It’s not to suggest they’re inept, it’s very difficult to attain critical distance from your work at short notice. Sometimes it’s just copy-editing, sometimes fact-checking… I was given a piece on cross-stitch which I found impossible, as I couldn’t confirm whether there were crafty errors. I like being trusted to drastically re-draft pieces that do not work, when there’s no time to send them back to the author. I’ve had to cut up to 50 per cent of the words from features, and tweak verbs in 40 syllable micro-reviews.
I don’t like what Fairfax is doing, because there are a goddamn massive number of journalists in Australia, and jobs don’t find me on the right side of supply-demand.
I was chatting with another Farrago sub last night, at the Emerging Writers Festival, about how silly it is to send subs away from regional papers. Many of the stories in these papers are area-specific. With no offense to the subs at the Fairfax editing warehouse, I doubt they’re too cluey, re: the peculiarities of local folk. Not the dude-in-Hot-Fuzz-with-a-big-ole-gun-shed way, but that there are people you will not be able to search for on the internet. You may not know if their name is spelled with four “p”s or their personality litigious. When News Corp bought out one of the local papers in my home town, it got itself a foul, shiny blue cover, and the layout of a school newsletter. I don’t really understand the use of this buy-out – the paper was free and delivered to every home, and there was hardly room for editorialising. I guess there were plenty of garage sale notices and death-memorials.
But my friend told me it was worse in her home town. The paper I refer to was called The Armidale Independent. After that buy-out, News Corp started up an Independent in Port Macquarie. It was the same school-newsletter fromat, but this paper was started just after the region picked up a couple of independent members–including Rob Oakeshott. To the untrained eye, it looked like a the weekly derring-do of a political party that did not exist.That these political members had a blue campaign bus did not help the matter.
The rules of journalism aren’t that hard to follow. Inverted pyramids, news values, avoiding defamation and showing both sides of a story. Working daily news isn’t something to which I’m aspiring. And good-o, as cadetships at The Age require not only internships but years spent at local news desks. But good subbing is crucial. When a journalist is churning out a half dozen stories each day, they simply cannot gain the distance from a story to see where it needs fixing.
I’m not suggesting there aren’t significant industrial challenges in journalism today. But destroying the quality of your product by demanding more productivity at a lower cost is not a solution. There are so many choices for news today, you need to make yourself indespensible.