30 July 2014

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Dyson at Large: Newsquest’s little hub of horrors

With Newsquest planning to move three daily papers’ production from northern England to a remote subbing hub in South Wales, I’ve been looking at titles already serviced there.

And based on what I’ve seen, many of the published pages currently emerging from the Newport centre are regularly of poor quality.

This could be because there’s too heavy a workload for too small a workforce to properly cope with; or maybe there’s a lack of skills and experience; perhaps there are technology problems; or just a missing cog in basic output procedures.

Possibly it’s a combination of all these things but, whatever the reasons, there were too many subbing mini-horrors in the Redditch Advertiser on Wednesday 19 February.

One example was the missing picture caption on page two, after someone presumably overlooked the ‘cap cap’ reminder…

Another mistake, surely not intended, was using the NHS logo as the main picture on page six…

The leading beneath headlines was regularly missing, as can be seen here with the ‘g’ overlapping the copy on page 14…

And what’s this story about the M3 in Surrey and Hampshire doing in a local paper for Worcestershire..?

These were just a few of the production errors to be found in a single edition but, in case that was a bad week for the Advertiser, let’s take a look at the Halesowen News.

On Thursday 20 February, this front page picture had been vertically stretched, creating some strangely shaped heads…

And on page eight of the same edition, there was almost a whole deck of white space beneath the headline, a strangely-positioned picture and an incomplete caption…

Looking at page 16 of the News on Thursday 13 February, there was an awkward advert-picture clash…

In the same edition, on page 63, this typical ‘pour it all in’ approach did little for the lay-out, column-levelling and random use of a rule…

But worst of all for the News, no-one noticed that the third column of the splash story had slipped under the right-hand border on 9 January…

The more titles I looked at, the more convinced I was that Newsquest’s hub was not easily coping with the sheer number of pages passing through its desks.

Here’s an example from page 4 of the Dudley News on 19 February: no headline for the storm damage story, and perhaps not the best subject to place next to a mobile home holiday advert…

And there was a real howler on the back page of the Cotswold Journal on 5 December: ‘Aylesbury’ spelled correctly in the copy, but then not checked in the headline where it becomes ‘Alyesbury’…

Headlines were once reserved for plain English experts, but Newport-subbed titles now regularly use police-speak jargon: note ‘pedestrian’, ‘vehicles’ (they were all cars) and ‘highway’ on page six of the Redditch Advertiser on 18 December…

Sadly, these production glitches were not difficult to find, with similar examples in editions of the Kidderminster Shuttle and Stourbridge News that I flicked through sticking out like sore thumbs.

There were several missing or incomplete captions; many badly written and poorly laid out headlines; various incongruous clashes between stories, adverts and pictures; and numerous pictures that were badly edited or positioned.

I accept that none of the 12 errors I’ve detailed above were catastrophic, and I know that every newspaper can occasionally be pointed at for letting a clanger slip through the net.

But they were typical of the sloppy subbing coming out of Newport that I think will be picked up by readers and advertisers, who at the very least will feel let down by their local paper.

And at the worst, there might be formal complaints and cost implications if a continued lack of careful proofing results in serious commercial, or even legal, blunders.

The row over whether remote subbing in Newport should be extended to the company’s north-east titles is, of course, a matter for Newsquest executives and NUJ officials to resolve.

But for what it’s worth, my opinion is that the Welsh unit is not yet good enough at handling multiple weeklies’ pages – let alone those of prestigious daily titles like the Northern Echo, Bradford Telegraph & Argus and The Press, York.

71 Comments

  1. KellyC

    Newspaper groups don’t care about sloppy subbing. They take the calculated decision to compromise on quality because they can save money on wages. They think readers don’t notice. They do, of course, and it has a dreadfully negative effect on the brand.

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  2. Desker

    I bet the NHS logo is not a mistake, it will have been someone looking for a picture to fill the shape and just going for the logo

    Report this comment

  3. The Daily Mess

    How dreadfully sad. Wonder how the Worcester News is faring?

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  4. Simple Hack

    Desker is absolutely right – you are given a template with a picture box – regardless of whether the story has a picture to go with it or not.
    That means scrabbling around for something, anything, that can fill that space.
    Steve Dyson could repeat this exercise across any of the papers produced by the hub and find hundreds of similar (and much, much worse) examples.

    Report this comment

  5. Voice of Reason

    It needs to be pointed out – and it hasn’t been yet – that all pages laid out in Newport are sent back to local centres for approval where changes can be made. Yes, mistakes have been made on the pages that Steve had highlighted, but surely the buck stops with the local centres who have let those pages go through?

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  6. Journowatch, surrey

    All of the errors Dyson has outlined above are undeniably that – errors. And not small ones either. But I suspect there’s an agenda going on here, with someone from the old school (ie Dyson) seeking to make the point that a radical new idea, such as remote subbing hubs, cannot possibly be a good one when set against the long history of piss-poor newspapers being produced in the communities that they cover.
    This strikes me as ‘Nimbyism’. Local newspaper journalists seeking to defend their jobs (not unsurprisingly perhaps) against the encroaching threat of falling revenues and the advances made possible by technology.
    What amuses me is that dinosaurs like Dyson are the first to throw up their hands in horror at the threat the industry faces but when someone comes up with a solution that might just help they view it as the worst thing that could possibly happen and denounce it as an appalling lowering of standards. Like the miners and the printers in the 1980s they seem to want their cake and to eat it.
    You can’t halt the tide of community websites, internet forums, apps, blogs and Facebook and Twitter pages that has been made possible with the spread of the world wide web and social media, the only thing you can do is come up with new ways of cutting costs and pooling resources to make newspapers more competitive.
    Perhaps it is time for HTFP to applaud this effort.

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  7. TheLNH

    Very sad. So demoralising for the journalists who work so hard to produce these stories, despite often being similarly over-stretched. Disgraceful, really.

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  8. submerged

    That’s a good bit of forensic work by Steve. A cold, hard look at the hub products and it makes for grim reading. It looks like there are major problems right through the spectrum, from quality of headlines to subbing and design technical issues and failures to even read a proof. I fear this will be a calamitous move for The Northern Echo and all the rest.

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  9. anon

    You should try working on papers like these – to say it’s demoralising is an understatement. You, quite rightly, pick out awful howlers – there are more – and many more are being spotted and corrected. Staff, who can, are leaving. Better not say any more!!

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  10. sub up north

    Not catastrophic? I’d say completely misspelling a town in your area in a header is fairly catastrophic. However, that’s not to denigrate the article at all – well done on pointing all these howlers out, Steve. But will anybody from Newsquest listen?

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  11. digipaul

    Really great article from Steve – those mistakes would simply not happen if there was any care and proofing taking place. Making it into a far-removed production line removes pride in work and local connection – all crucial to producing newspaper.

    And the comments from Journowatch? What utter drivel – defending something which is clearly producing a catastrophic decline in quality is just bizarre. And this is happening soon after the move – when presumably people are trying harder than normal to prove it’s going to be a success. Imagine a few more months down the line…

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  12. J Dale, Birmingham

    Well said Steve. As I read this I could hear the voices of thousands of journalists everywhere saying: “I told you so!” I take the point made by Jornowatch that the world is changing, but given that landscape the only hope that local newspapers have is to position themselves above the drivel that populates the digisphere in terms of quality. Without that they have nothing whatsoever and might as well just give up now.

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  13. Karl Kolchak, Way Out West

    Steve Dyson has never written truer words – Newport are already struggling to cope, so what happens as the number of titles increases?

    Voice of Reason: In theory, the buck does stop at local centres, but some pages come back so late we hardly have time to give them more than a brief glance, let alone make changes – and this inevitably increases the possibility of a massive legal blunder sneaking through, particularly when copy is chopped and changed…

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  14. Confused

    Journowatch is right.
    Where vested interest holds all the cards they can force their way of doing things onto others no matter what the cost is to quality, long-termism and a commitment to local communities.

    Just look at what the miners did to their own jobs. No more going thousands of feet under the earth to hack coal. If they hadn’t gone on strike we would probably still have a coal industry – though one probably now employing Polish and East European miners at the minumum wage.

    Come on journalists, man up. Unless you accept that job security, job satisfaction, pride in your job or even the actual jobs are so last week, there will not be a newspaper industry for big companies to run down and then pass on to future generations.

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  15. Tony Boullemier, Northampton

    What a ghastly collection of howlers. Well done for pointing them out, Steve Dyson.
    And whatever ‘Journowatch’ says, there can be no defence.

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  16. LOL

    “You can’t halt the tide of community websites, internet forums, apps, blogs and Facebook and Twitter pages that has been made possible with the spread of the world wide web and social media, the only thing you can do is come up with new ways of cutting costs and pooling resources to make newspapers more competitive.”

    No, the answer to the rise of community websites, internet forums, apps, blogs and Facebook and Twitter is not to cut down your costs so much you mirror them. That is how you die.

    An out of town, one cub reporter, paper scrabbling around copying and pasting fluff off these community sites is not how you compete with them. You invest in good quality professional journalists to lead the agenda.

    Mirroring and offering a poorer version of community sites, that are still based in their towns and villages while the papers pull further and further away, is not the way to go.

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  17. Voice of Reason

    The Northern Echo managed to mistakenly place a picture of an entirely innocent man alongside a story about a sex offender recently. In a story about a man who had died, the paper used a picture of someone with the same name who was very much not dead. It once spelt ‘optimimism’ in a headline. The NUJ seem to hold the Echo subs in such high regard but they’re not perfect are they?!

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  18. North-East journalist

    Voice of Reason – experienced news subs do occasionally get it wrong. Very wrong as in the example you use. We all make mistakes. But on balance I would favour their efforts day in day out over a bunch of inexperienced university graduates, or worse.
    This whole plan resembles a car crash waiting to happen with Newsquest – either through pig-headedness or sheer greed or a combination of both – unwilling to put its foot on the brake.

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  19. Bluestringer

    Replacing an existing system with one that appears to be far worse is madness.
    Yes, we all make mistakes, and on-site subs have made a good many down the years.
    But I sense the cock-ups listed above aren’t just “mistakes.”
    They’re evidence of either an alarming lack of subbing knowledge or a careless attitude bordering on the unforgivable.

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  20. Chris

    Journowatch says this is a ‘radical new idea’ but it’s been going on for years. The issue is that with a sub in the room,you can discuss the page as it is created.
    A journalist’s job used to be done once their story was written. A sub would then iron out any issues and design it. Now it has to be sent back to the journalist, who should be writing new copy and moving stories on.
    Now they have to look for design mistakes and other issues created by a sub who has no local knowledge of the patch,as is proven by spelling place names wrong.
    Subbing a sub is just plain wrong.

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  21. Edward John Smith, The Northern Half

    North-East journalist
    I don’t really understand the rationale of what you are saying, is it that these enormous Northern Echo howlers are OK because they were made by an experienced sub but these much lesser ones are a disaster because they were made by inexperienced graduates?

    The implication from Voice of Reason was that the car crash had indeed happened with the howlers described., irrespective of where the subbing was done and by whom.

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  22. The Red Postman

    When I was joint-FoC at the Midlands arm of another regional group from 2006-2009, I had endless meetings with a succession of MD’s warning them that this would happen if they went down the route of subbing hubs. They seemed so intent on cost-cutting that they did it anyway. I remember regularly saying that subbing hubs were a £1million libel suit waiting to happen; it seems it’s getting closer by the day.

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  23. Onthefence, Midlands

    Those of us “old’uns” who got out at the turn of the century with a redundancy cheque and enhanced pension did so because we saw this disaster looming and knew we had enjoyed the industry’s best days. How sad to see our worst fears realised. Even one former managing director admitted to me he no longer visits his former offices because he felt he was entering God’s Waiting Room whenever he toured those once vibrant departments. Such vibrancy, he said, was reflected in the product which when he left was selling 100,000 copies a night. Now it struggles to sell more than 30,000.

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  24. Voice of Reason

    The elephant in the room here is that all pages produced in Newport are then sent back to local centres for output. It’s a rather important point.

    We strive for perfection but cannot always achieve it. Reporters make mistakes. Subs make mistakes. The key is in the checking process. All pages need to be read by at least two employees before going to press. That policy will not change when this new system comes in.

    The examples displayed by Steve would stick out like a sore thumb to anyone proofing the page. So how many read the pages after they came back from Newport? That’s the issue.

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  25. Karl Kolchak, Way Out West

    Voice of Reason: some pages come back to us so late there is barely enough time to glance at them, let alone check for errors, add captions, correct headlines, extend copy etc etc

    Steve Dyson has never written truer words – the real fear is that a massive legal landmine will slip through, particularly when legalled copy is being chopped and changed…

    Newport are struggling to cope with their workload as it is – what happens when the large northern titles come on board?

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  26. Doomed

    Should try looking at some newspapers websites, those that ditched the daily to be weekly, fairly sure they are used for spell, fact and grammar checking by the general public, then throw them into print.
    Recent big news piece by JP about Northampton bus station, a very popular article, but littered with typos and even made up place names…

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  27. Steve Dyson, Birmingham

    Thanks for all the feedback. Most comments speak for themselves or answer each other well, but I should respond to a couple of points.

    ‘Voice of Reason’ says “all pages laid out in Newport are sent back to local centres for approval where changes can be made… surely the buck stops with the local centres who have let those pages go through?”

    I see the point, but feel the processes behind Newport need exploring. Multiple titles are serviced, so are there timed slots for ‘proofing and outputting’ each one in close liaison with local centres? Or are editors just expected to read pages ad hoc, as and when Newport churns out pages?

    If the pages I saw were after such proofing, then how many errors existed beforehand? Does each editor travel to Newport to proof/output? If not, can each editor call subs directly and talk through changes needed? Is each page printed somewhere for proper proofing? Do the subs’ shifts correspond to the local centre’s overview? Who makes the changes needed? Who signs pages off? Who presses the final ‘publish’ button? Is this process clearly tagged and archived for every single page? Is each edition then reviewed, errors noted and learnings built into the process?

    To put it bluntly, in Ian Dowell-speak, are arses kicked over these howlers?
    Put in modern pc-speak, are there good structures and protocols in place? Are they fully codified and understood? Is this supported by resource and training? Newsquest needs to answer these questions – for itself, if no-one else. And note the word ‘resource’ – the company can’t demand all that I’ve suggested if Newport is run on a shoe-string.

    ‘Journowatch, surrey’ says: “I suspect there’s an agenda going on here, with someone from the old school (ie Dyson) seeking to make the point that a radical new idea… cannot possibly be a good one” and that “with the spread of the world wide web and social media, the only thing you can do is come up with new ways of cutting costs and pooling resources.”

    Of course there’s an agenda, Journowatch, and I’ll come to that. But first let’s focus on new ideas: I love them. But to succeed, they must be properly resourced, with stringent structures, proper training, agreed procedures, and led with passion. For whatever reason – and it may be technology plays a part here – the Newport hub is not yet working properly, and is not ready to expand its work. I have no shame in pointing that out. If new ideas do work, I applaud them (see my last blog on UGC at the Pocklington Post).

    As for remote subbing centres as a concept, who could complain if they cut costs but were so professional that they improved quality, reduced errors, led to morale boosts, increased reader loyalty and assisted commercial success?

    Whatever we think about ‘life is local’, the main issue with remote subbing in this case is that the new hub does not appear to be working very well, and is not ready – in my opinion – to take on Newsquest en masse. It could lead to all sorts of problems and potential U-turns (which has happened in recent years elsewhere) and major casualties could be historic daily titles.

    Now, about my agenda: whatever cost-cutting is considered, let’s make sure that journalistic standards are not damaged. I’m questioning whether that principle has been applied in Newsquest’s thinking.

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  28. Mervyn, north

    Re Chris . . .” A journalist’s job used to be done once their story was written. A sub would then iron out any issues and design it. Now it has to be sent back to the journalist, who should be writing new copy and moving stories on.”
    By journalist you mean reporter . . .real subs are trained journalists who apply a journalist’s skills.

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  29. submerged

    I think we all know that economic reality is biting hard and newspapers have to cut costs. But there is also a cold, hard reality in sacrificing newspapers in this way and following such a deeply flawed strategy. There is a price to be paid in the balance books because this will undoubtedly drive even more precious readers away at a time when it is a real backs-the-wall battle to keep them. Steve was careful not to put emotion into this. As far as I can see he carried out a very valuable task in shining a light on the hub products. That’s a sensible, careful and measured approach. One that Newsquest would be foolish to ignore.

    I just hope I haven’t seen the future of North-east pages…

    ‘Dralington pedestrian sustains injuries (not serious) on the highway’
    ‘Pic caption here please’

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

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  30. North-East journalist

    Edward John Smith – You miss my point. I’m not saying one mistake is worse than another, depending on who makes it. That doesn’t make sense. I’m saying experienced subs generally get it right more often than they do wrong. Based on this limited example provided by Steve Dyson it might be said that those staffing this subbing ‘hub’ are getting it more wrong than right! The error over the picture ID is plainly an extreme example of a mistake Voice of Reason has picked, but like I said none of us journalists are infallible or exempt to criticism.

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  31. All Subbed Out

    From what I’ve heard from Worcester, pages are copy-edited by Newport so late, and any new template shapes required are produced so slowly, that the local centres simply would not have time to chase up errors such as the ones Mr Dyson has highlighted.

    These papers, incidentally, are ones have now been churned out at Newport (instead of being sub-edited by experienced, long-serving journalists at Worcester) for a full three months, so these are hardly initial teething troubles.

    One of the papers mentioned above is the Kidderminster Shuttle, and Hold The Front Page recently advertised the job of Shuttle editor because incumbent Clive Joyce has resigned since this new system came into effect. I wonder what he might have to say about it all, when he’s free to do so….

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  32. anon

    There seems to be an issue with pages being over-written, so sometimes the “content managers” don’t see what is actually printed.
    The problem lies partly with the software and mainly with the sacking of subs and page planners

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  33. Bandwagoneer

    Thanks to Steve for bringing these shocking errors to light. They are clearly the result of wilful ignorance and hold no place in such fine publications as the Redditch Advertiser, which is packed full of vital copy on a weekly basis.

    These so-called subs should be ashamed at such a shoddy display; something that would never happen in beacons of the industry such as the Northern Echo (false sex offence allegations excluded).

    It still amazes me that OUR stories are being subbed in a foreign country.

    It appears that this bandwagon is nearing capacity, we’ll all have to wait around for the next one.

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  34. Ex-sub, UK

    Am I the only person who feels sorry for the people who’ve turned out these awful pages which smack of desperation?

    They’re truly appalling and this is not the fault of the subs / template fillers but the fault of respective editors who don’t seem to have the guts to stand up to Newsquest.

    The overall picture is one of people who don’t have enough training on the system, templates which are inflexible and unsuitable, and nothing like enough time to do the job properly.

    A ‘rigid’ template system was introduced on my evening newspaper a couple of years ago. Subs were forbidden to move adverts etc etc. A week later and we were given privileges to move adverts and actually, we saved time because we didn’t have to wait for the nod from the editor or advert reps, we just got on with it.

    The stress and pressure on the hub subs must be intolerable and will only get worse when they take on daily pages.

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  35. Hub sub, Newport

    The problem with all of the above is that one man’s opinion is being taken as fact and then used by the NUJ as conclusive evidence to prove its case, as if it was some weighty piece of academic research.
    That is partly because Newsquest never responds to requests for comments and partly because the NUJ has been extremely effective in getting its message across – even if the reality is somewhat different from the union hype.
    Steve Dyson neglects to mention in his piece that the titles he reviewed were already produced via a subbing hub in Worcester – the very subbing hub the NUJ campaigned so vociferously against a few years ago. It would now appear that some hubs are more equal than others in the eyes of Dyson and the NUJ.
    Incidentally, a few weeks ago union officials were camped out in a community centre opposite the Newport building attempting to recruit subs from the hub it so despises.
    There is a myth that the Newport hub is staffed by graduates.
    The reality is there are more experienced subs – some, like me, with 30 years or more in the trade – than there are graduates.
    The graduates are getting high quality training from Cardiff University’s school of journalism and none of their work is returned without being viewed by an experienced sub – unless editors say they are happy for them to sub a particular title.
    Mistakes should not be made but I’ve never worked in a subbing department that doesn’t make them. Those that are made should be spotted and corrected at the proofing stage – and that is the responsibility of editors at local offices.
    The subbing hub doesn’t produce pages. We sub stories.
    Pages are put together at local offices with stories sent to us.
    Local offices have the responsibility for proofing, correcting and outputting their pages.
    I doubt if anyone would want subbing hubs in an ideal world. But that doesn’t mean those of us who work in them should be disparaged and belittled.
    I await the usual outpouring of bile.

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  36. Dave Bowie

    Voice of Reason – we are talking skeleton staff at the local centres – that’s before any absences for stress, illness or, god forbid, a holiday. The investment is all going into Newport but it appears they still haven’t got enough staff either or know-how. That’s before three large daily papers head their way from another corner of the UK. That’s right – they cannot cope with the workload now. Steve Dyson makes some very valid points.

    Papers went up in price and the pagination went up with it. Then the staff levels are cut and a new time-consuming, bug-ridden editorial system brought in to justify those cuts. Quality, whether it’s design or content, just seems to have been compromised. Sound familiar?

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  37. beenthere

    They’re bending over backwards to write good headlines in Dudley…

    http://www.dudleynews.co.uk/news/11052226.New_drive_in_Dudley_to_encourage_volunteers_to_speak_up_for_people_with_leaning_difficulties/

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  38. Sorry, but...

    >Based on this limited example provided by Steve Dyson it might be said that those staffing this subbing ‘hub’ are getting it more wrong than right!

    That’s quite an extrapolation.

    >Another mistake, surely not intended, was using the NHS logo as the main picture

    Someone at the paper chose a template with space for a picture, but didn’t have one.

    >And what’s this story about the M3 in Surrey and Hampshire doing in a local paper for Worcestershire..?

    That was decided by someone at the paper. Newport don’t choose the stories!

    Here’s how the system works.

    Papers have a bank of templates to choose from. If none matches what they want, they can put in a request for a new one. They specify what it should comprise.

    They then apply a template to a page released from Planning.
    They drop the copy/picture(s)/captions into the template.

    Newport subs then sub it. Current workload is something like two dailies and somewhere between 20-30 weeklies/editions thereof. Most of which print on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

    It then goes back to the paper to proof.

    Newport has been subbing most of the Wales and Wiltshire and Gloucestershire papers for many years.

    Many of Newport’s staff are ‘real subs’ of many years’ experience, who care about what they produce and work long and hard. And are fed-up of being painted as villains, or ‘careless’ or useless by anyone wanting to moan about the system or things subs have no control over.
    And even, more than once previously on this website, being blamed for mistakes on titles they don’t even touch yet!

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  39. Bandwagoneer

    As a fan of the Redditch Advertiser (I have every copy printed over the last 12 years) I can only hope that such grave errors are eradicated.

    How will people in a foreign country understand the vital importance of the Alcester pancake race? A rhetorical question.

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  40. Johnners, Shropshire

    Confused – you say “Just look at what the miners did to their own jobs..” Point of information: it wasn’t the miners, it was Margaret Thatcher..

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  41. Lister

    Just a small point, though one that requires making. Voice of Reason highlights three mistakes that appeared recently in the Northern Echo. He or she is probably an insider to be aware of them, and if so has chosen to ignore the fact that two of the mistakes were made before they had reached the subs’ desk. In the case of the innocent man and the sex offender, the identity was double-checked by the subs, who were in fact reassured the identity was correct.
    There is an insidious trend developing at the Echo where certain members of management are undermining the workforce by tweeting misinformation in a bid to reassure the readership their paper isn’t moving to Wales. I suggest Voice of Reason is a further development of this trend. Voice of Reason also has a nasty split infinitive in his or her opening sentence. Really, the contribution should have been subbed. But that’s the way things are going.

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  42. JP Cost Cut Victim

    In order to have any chance of survival, newspapers have to become an equally attractive proposition to online. They need to be worth the cover price, in terms of content and design. Editors covering several titles, hubbing and out-sourcing isn’t achieving this. (And JPs recent ‘support local’ approach rings hollow when you think of the jobs it sent to India). How will the vital advertisers be attracted to such poor products? It is only in the print versions that advertisers know that their ads are seen as part of the page design. Online they are quickly hidden as they interfere. Both online and print need to work together, with online participation being driven there via print. Digital should be as well as print, not an alternative to it.

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  43. Northern journo

    Journowatch paints a rather gloomy picture, but doesn’t mention that Newsquest and its parent company are still making a generous profit. (They tell that to the shareholders every year, but don’t tell the minions!)

    In fact, things were so good that just under a year ago, they invested at some papers and brought in new reporters, increasing pagination in some titles (also increasing the price).

    Yet here we are now and the pagination of those papers has pretty much gone back down to their pre price-rise size, so customers are paying almost double the price for the same product.

    Voice of Reason is playing divide and conquer – shift the blame to local centres and take the heat off Newport.

    Deep down, VoR knows that, if someone has subbed a page and sends it back to you – a reporter – the chances are, you’re not (righly or wrongly) going to be looking for massive errors like inappropriate ads, story choice or headline choice, and you may not even have time to do a proper job of it while you’re fighting lots of other deadlines.

    It’s staggering that VoR didn’t just take this on the chin and say ‘yep, fair kop, we need to improve and these errors are unacceptable’.

    I say that, but in my experience, Newquest subs are very rarely rapped on the knuckles for making errors even when they don’t have to face the music when people complain.

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  44. Kendo Nagasaki

    Let’s be honest, editorial standards in these papers do not matter. Even if they were brilliant they would still be on a one-way path to oblivion. The same can be said for the vast majority of local papers owned by other companies.

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  45. Confused

    “Calling Johnners – from 35,000 feet above you – I know it was the Irony Lady!”

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  46. Andy

    The errors identified here aren’t caused by a central subbing centre, but by bad systems and production workflows. Most of these errors would also happen if the subs were sat next to reporters, if they were relying on the same processes and systems.

    This isn’t a pro-central subbing comment, just pointing out that because Steve Dyson has an agenda – which he admits to – he’s worked out 2 + 2 to equal 5.

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  47. Red Ken, Yorkshire

    Bet when this beds down, which it will, the NUJ recruiting team are at Newport signing the new copy editors up. In the same way as they refuse to condemn these Soviet era propaganda local authority ‘news’papers, despite the fact they are taking advertising revenue and therefore jobs from independent local newspapers.

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  48. Onlooker

    Steve Dyson has tried to be scientific here. To complete the experiment and reach a sound conclusion on the relative standards of subbing he should repeat the exercise with an equal number of randomly chosen but similarly sized papers that are produced in a “traditional” local manner.
    How about it, Steve?

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  49. Streatham2

    Beenthere – support for people with leaning difficulties? Some sort of weight-watchers’ group I assume

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  50. Spanner

    Steve having one of his Canute moments !

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  51. Willie1712

    Regardless of the standard of production, one of the saddest thing to come out of all this is the blame game and divide-and-rule culture that is growing up around it.
    There must be managements who are wetting themselves with delight at achieving one of the top items on their warped agenda.

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  52. Steve Dyson, Birmingham

    In fairness, ‘Onlooker’, the blog does just that: every two weeks selecting another newspaper at random to review, headlines, lay-out, content and all.

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  53. Onlooker

    A one-off overall snapshot of a single product is not the same as an in-depth investigation of subbing standards across several varied products, Steve. Why won’t you take up the challenge?

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  54. Steve Dyson, Birmingham

    Thanks, ‘Onlooker’. As I say, I feel that’s what the blog does when you read its ongoing reviews, month-on-month, year-on-year. But hey – instead of boring others with this – feel free to email me direct if you have a more detailed suggestion. steve.dysonmedia@gmail.com

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  55. Scoop

    Onlooker – I picked up the Halifax Courier today. Overall, not as bad as I would have thought, but still not good. But on a page 4 turn from the front page I found this gem

    LOCK OUT IN UPAID RENT ROW.

    Now it is wrong on two levels. It did, however, fit the space. Job done.

    The rest of the paper was templates. Very obvious, with lots of similar headlines. Not knocking those who work on it in one respect (esp if they are subbing several newspapers) but the quality of headline writing and boring stories made me leave it in the cafe I was in.

    As a long-time newspaper man, made redundant in 2010 (THANK GOD FOR MY STRESS LEVELS AND GENERAL HEALTH) I should still buy newspapers. I don’t any more, more to do with the poor quality in general of the local papers in my area rather than the websites. I don’t look at the websites because I know what I’m going to get.

    So while I think Steve is stuck in a time-warp, this is not the only local paper with problems.

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  56. Stabbed in the hack

    This is not about hammering individuals, there are some simple facts highlighted here.
    However they happen these howlers are there for all to see which is damaging to the titles’ standing with readers and will damage ad sales.
    Newsquest made these changes in order to shed staff and cut costs, they are now once again trying to do too much with too few people. It should be noted the company is now advertising for experienced subs to work at Newport, while planning to fire experienced subs elsewhere.
    These two points demonstrate the short-term thinking which is at work here, cut costs now to service the debt of the parent company despite the long-term damage to the products which make the cash.
    They must stop this madness, bite the bullet and rethink this whole thing before the yes men and bean counters at the top put everyone out of a job.
    At the moment their refusal to accept the disaster to come is like the pilot of a plane refusing to admit he is flying towards a mountain despite the fact everyone can see it out of the window.

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  57. FYI

    1. Newport does not sub online content.
    2. Newport does not sub the Halifax Courier.

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  58. Scoop

    FYI – not the point. It’s endemic. Nothing works properly

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  59. Bandwagoneer

    What have the standards of our papers come to if we are being forced to leave them in the cafes we are in? I remember the time when I would re-read my papers numerous times during the week eagerly anticipating the next edition and the gifts of perfectly subbed information contained within.

    It’s abhorrent that anyone should be subjected to this in the 21st century. What is happening to this country?

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  60. samblue

    Could I hazard a guess that Voice of Reason, Confused and Journowatch have not been, nor will be, affected by Newsquest following Johnston Press in developing a central subbing hub, leading to many subs on local weekly and daily papers in various regions losing their jobs. This is in addition to the fall in basic journalistic standards in the finished products whether it be through inexperience, lack of time to check things properly, too muck work expected from too few, or just plain carelessness.

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  61. steerpike

    JP Cost Cuts Victim makes a good point, one on which the neophiles and doom-mongers will be quick to leap, which is that quality is what sells a newspaper; of course people buy it when something big happens, but many do so week on week anyway because they know it’ll be worth a read, whereas figures for online show, with their huge peaks and troughs, that page views are driven solely by what’s going on in the world; I don’t believe many people routinely head for their local paper’s website unless they’re already looking for something particular, probably impelled by some external stimulus, from a poke on Facebook to the roof having come off their house in the night. With price rises now routine on every title everywhere, poor quality like this is all the excuse they need to leave it on the shelf. And of course Steve’s misspelled headline would be merely an alternative spelling on a Google search, the chopped-off copy would appear in full online (not that anyone would bother reading that far in any case) and the inappropriately sized picture different in scale on a web page, so none of it makes any difference to the online version, which is what it’s all about, regrettably.In fact if they’d been clever and posted on Facebook ‘Dumb errors in local newspaper’ linked to the story on the website, that would probably have garnered more hits than the splash. But then these days hard news comes a poor second to mindless passive YouTube voyeurism anyway; as Mencken said, more or less, no one ever failed in business because they underestimated the intelligence of the public.

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  62. lensman

    Can’t say I’m a fan of hubs, but they’ve been around a while. Have there actually been any absolutely massive legal howlers costing the companies thousands yet? Even if there have been some I’m sure the senior management are convinced they have saved more in wages than they have paid out in legal fees. Unfortunately you can’t quantify a newspaper’s reputation in £££s and pence and if you can’t cost it,the bean counters at the top aren’t interested.

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  63. Simple Hack

    Have read the comments with interest.

    We have been on the Knowledge system for several months now.

    The facts are that it is far more time consuming than having the subs in the office alongside you; the pages look worse; templates are buggy; templates take bloody ages to come back – and then often don’t fit anyway; by the time pages are ‘subbed’ there’s little time to correct problems; headlines are boring, boring, boring…

    I could go on.

    The bottom line is that this was a way of firing experienced subs and hiring much cheaper people straight out of university. We all know it, Newsquest knows it and they aren’t going to change it for a moment.

    God help us all when the big northern papers come online.

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  64. samblue

    Sorry, I meant to type ‘much work’ instead of ‘muck work’, but that’s what you get when you don’t have a proper sub to handle your copy.

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  65. Bandwagoneer

    God help us indeed. Only someone of his immense, all-knowing power can save such mighty titles as the Redditch Advertiser.

    I for one will be glad when the almighty descends to sort out the local newspaper industry. If anyone knows how to write an interesting headline it’s him.

    These newly employed graduates, fresh out of university are due a good old-fashioned visit from the lord.

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  66. Bandwagoneer

    God help us indeed. A bit of divine intervention is just what we need to rescue the stalwart bastions of news like the Redditch Advertiser.

    It’s about time the Almighty stepped in to save the local newspaper industry. If anyone knows their way around an interesting headline it is the Lord.

    These recently employed graduates, fresh out of university, are due a good, old-fashioned visit from on high. I’m sure it is mentioned somewhere in the bible that spaces do NOT go before full-stops.

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  67. wtf

    Has anyone noticed how unfunny bandwagoneer is.

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  68. Bandwagoneer

    Yes wtf, yes I have.

    He is the sort of person who gives respectable internet forums a bad name. Who does he think he is?

    What has the internet come to when an anonymous, foul-mouthed idiot can express his opinion at a whim?

    I remember the days when only certain people were allowed to have opinions and social change was beaten down with an iron rod. Oh, how I long for those days.

    I can only hope the might of Steve Dyson, blogger at large, will strike this upstart down with extreme prejudice.

    He does not understand the serious global implications that this eloquent article has uncovered. How dare he question the righteous word of Dyson.

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  69. Steve Dyson, Birmingham

    Aha, I think we have a troll emerging from under the bridge…

    Welcome aboard, ‘Bandwagoneer’, warts and all!

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  70. beenthere

    Let’s all quietly ignore Bandwagoneer

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  71. Wandbagoneer

    Yeah guys, lets tone it down with these loud comments. I’ve had to turn my speakers off.

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