Sub editors: dispensible, according to Roy Greenslade, anyway. Strictly, he’s right, in that if any part of the team that gets text onto pages could be dismissed, it’s the part concerned with style and accuracy. There would still be journalists to write words, pages would get filled, papers could be sold. The mechanical process of fixing grammar and spellos could be outsourced, says Greenslade, or journalists could check over each others stories. The subs in the comments at the Press Gazette story are, reasonably enough, outraged: one commenter accuses him of “[doing] his best to see a whole raft of journalists lose their jobs. But Greenslade probably isn’t wrong. If he’s guilty of something, it’s of enthusiastically welcoming something which is already happening and already contributing to general journalistic lousiness.
Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News points out that subs at BBCi are encouraged to do their job by reading over writers’ shoulders as the copy is written. At the Sunday Express, they’ve already cut most of their subs and consequently the paper is publishing spectacular balls about “floating islands” and “heroine addicts”. That’s self-evidently pretty poor and embarrassing for the paper. Has it hurt the paper? Well, ABCs are falling universally, and while the Sunday Express is doing notably badly, it’s still not losing sales as quickly as some (goodbye, Sindy). So you couldn’t really say that the poor quality of the paper’s copy is directly hurting it.
But then, the Sunday Express might be hilariously awful but it isn’t uniquely bad. Print media is feeling the competition from the internet, so resources are getting more and more restricted. The result is that the stuff you read in the papers is increasingly like what you could find online: roughly written, sensationalist and confirmed only by cursory checks. Often, papers are simply publishing things they’ve seen on the internet. Running a viral email as a news story is cheap for the paper, but the effect is probably just to push more readers towards the internet where they could get this for free. If the print media responds to online competition by becoming exactly like the internet, they’re going to rationalise themselves out of existence. Greenslade can’t be faulted for pointing to a trend. But he’s really, really foolish to pretend that the trend will have no effect on content when it obviously already is.