Living in Burnham-on-Crouch (until my boss could arrange a Corporation flat for me) could be a bit wearisome – it meant early rises and late nights if I had an evening job, council or arts review and a long drive to work to wake me up. The return journey was always in the dark.
During this time I still remained alert during working hours and always checked my copy against what actually appeared in the paper, or I should say papers because a number of my stories were picked up by our big sister newspaper the Evening Echo.
It was interesting to compare the subbing and headline style of our in-office sub for the weekly as compared to those at head office concentrating on the need to meet daily deadlines and ensure readers wanted to buy the newspapers.
Sometimes I preferred the way our sub had handled the copy and headline and at others the head office sub had a better grasp.
Take the story of the young widowed mum who lost her husband when he went out with his mates for the first time in months and ended up dead at the foot of concrete stairs leading up to a dance hall.
Our sub kept my copy pretty well much as it was written and headed it:
Widowed at 18
In this he had concentrated very much on the young widow facing life without her first love – which was a very important part of the story. Yet I had not written so much about her as given her story of her sport-loving husband.
The Evening Echo sub went more on the sporting lad with his cosy home life:
The copy had been adjusted (no I don’t mean rewritten) by the sub to give more attention to the dead man and the description of his lifestyle given by his widow, than on the ones left behind.
Another example of the different ways stories are handled involved an 18-year-old who claimed in court that he had turned to crime because he was depressed. He didn’t get any sympathy from the magistrate as highlighted in the Evening Echo‘s headline:
Twaddle! JP raps
Whereas our in-house sub headed it:
Not exactly an attention-grabbing headline.
Another story, again involving a court case, reversed the methods of the subs, however, with both headings being in the same size font and used as page leads in the respective newspapers.
The basic court story, a man charged with careless driving, was fleshed out with information on previous incidents at the same spot. Some of this had been referred to in the court case but I also checked on statistics from the past five years.
The Echo sub went for:
Court plea as
danger boom to
The Standard Recorder gave the story as much prominence and grabbed the attention far more with a heading of just three lines and only half the number of words used by his Echo opposite number:
That “Death road” first line was far ounchier/ than the somewhat mundane first two lines “Court plea as lights bring”.
Mind you even in those days I believed I could have made a better job (as many of my old colleagues will attest – I was always cocky) and in this case I would have gone for a bigger, yet shorter, heading:
Because I always checked my original against what appeared I was still on my learning curve. In hard news stories I could instantly see if a sub had picked up on any unnecessary verbiage which might shroud the facts.
At the same time in feature work there were pieces where I should not have been quite so clipped in my work.
All in all I provided a wide range of good local stories for my paper and our big sister the Echo. Looking back at my scrap books I am quite amazed at just how much I did write, and I could see my style developing.