Survive Your Newsroom

Survive Your Newsroom: Chief Sub

There is one person who can ruin your career in a newspaper newsroom – and it’s not the Editor.

Chief Sub.

Chief Sub may sound like the latest lunchtime special from your sandwich deli but do not be fooled. In the slippery world of newspaper internal politics it is chief sub who wields the knife both figuratively and literally.

And we do mean literally. This ferret still bears the scar of a page make up scalpel left lying too close to the chief sub during an argument over what Chief Sub decided was worthy of only a nib.

And therein lies the reality of power in a newsroom. Editors will vary in shape and size – and levels of sociopathy – but  it’s usually broad brush demands, met as far as is practicable by a harried news desk and their soon-to-be-yet-more-harried reporters.

chief sub takes on the editor

Chief Sub verses the Editor. The outcome is foreknown.

It is chief sub who can hold up your ‘brilliant exclusive ‘with queries, fact-checking demands, until all tempo is lost, page space dwindling until just the bottom of page 2 beckons, next to the weather – and is the weather that will get read.

News Editors rightly fear them in evening conference – and so should you. The nightly ritual of show and tell bluff perpetrated by news desk before the resident Caligula in the Editor’s chair can quickly descend in a bloody spectacle akin to a bull fight in Cordoba. Even the most even-tempered Chief Sub feels compelled to lob fact-seeking questions like toreador javelins into the hide of the news editor, drawing editorial blood with each query. As the soft underbelly of the flabby story finally gives up its guts, Chief Sub, now sated, will usually withdraw. The Editor will mercifully deliver the coup de grace, the killing blow, throwing the ears of the hapless news fool into the baying crowd of executives. But forget not that the hard work, the take-down was orchestrated by Chief Sub.

Fret not. Help IS at hand. Chief Sub has two fatal weaknesses which you can exploit. Pride and drink. Drink mainly, but we’ll start with pride.

Chief Subs have spent years tearing copy apart, destroying untruths, whispers and worse – a reporter’s assumption (‘If you assume it makes an ASS out of U and Me!’). They pride themselves on spotting flaws and are the kind of dinner guest who will refer to Frankenstein’s Monster – and correct you if you fail to do the same.

SO beguile, dear cub. Beguile. Throw some minor mistakes into copy to placate them. A few snippets, nothing too obvious.

‘Over 40m people will die from obesity by 2020….

Expect to be corrected with a curt ‘MORE THAN not over!’ Job done. You risk a reputation of being a blithering idiot but you’re feeding the beast with their favourite food.

Safer, but more expensive is drink.

You may have crawled out of the newsroom after a 12 hour slog but head to the pub and wait. Chief subs will emerge after putting the paper to bed around 1am. Booze is their kryptonite. They will cease – temporaliy, at least – to view you as a walking bag of bollocks and instead as human.

And that’s a start.


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