Yes, you’ve read that correctly: this blog is arguing that Newsquest would have been wrong to take headline-writing away from its subbing hubs.
And yes, that’s a thesis I never thought I’d be backing.
Surely – and this is me questioning myself – after various occasions when I’ve decried the quality of Newsquest titles subjected to factory-style subbing, I should have been encouraging what first appeared to be a plan to return more creative ownership to local editorial teams.
But the more I’ve thought about it – and the more I’ve listened to staff who’ve contacted me from the subbing hub in Newport, South Wales and from various Newsquest titles – the more I’m convinced that such a headline-writing reversal would have been bad news.
Why? Well firstly, now that newspaper production has been shipped out to subbing hubs, there are precious few staff left at any title who are great headline writers – because they were either relocated to the hubs or, in most cases, sacked.
Most editors still in the group are now responsible for multiple titles, whose remaining journalists have been hit by constant cost-saving programmes.
If individual titles had been made responsible for writing all headlines, subheads and straplines again, Newsquest would have been overstretching these local resources, which would have decreased not increased or even maintained quality.
Secondly, if Newsquest had stripped creative responsibility from what are developing journalists with improving skills at the hubs, it would have reduced them to mundane, production line jobs.
Many of the hubs’ new staff are graduates with NCTJ qualifications, and they joined the hubs as a career move aspiring to become talented subs, not to end up as demotivated copy-monkeys.
Newsquest – if the proposed changes had gone ahead – would effectively have been telling them and their managers: “Sorry, your work isn’t good enough, and so rather than training you to improve we’re just going to take away the best part of your jobs.”
Finally, this suggested plan has only resulted in many staff – at hubs and local titles – feeling angry and back-biting at each other (just read the comments on this story), which is a situation that no-one in any workplace needs.
Fortunately, from what HoldtheFrontPage has now discovered, the proposal appears to have been ‘indefinitely postponed’ and, if that’s the case, that’s the way it should stay.
Otherwise cynics might suspect Newsquest of encouraging a divide-and-rule culture, challenging local centres to resume headline-writing with an eventual plan to cut even more resource by closing hubs and returning the entire production process to individual titles.
But no-one really believes in conspiracy theories, do they?
That aside, what else should Newsquest be doing as well as cancelling this half-baked plan?
Well, there’s nothing wrong with editors and their local teams having the final say on all headlines – effectively giving the pages a ‘revise’ status and providing time for any howlers to be removed and for any brilliant ideas to be inserted.
That would be a good principle to embed in the production process, while at the same time continuing to train hub staff and perhaps even taking them on site visits to local titles to help improve teamwork.
Newsquest must deal with the reality it’s created: subbing hubs exist, the resource has been shifted (or saved), and it now needs to make this system work.