Has the Financial Times got its subbing shake-up right?

News that the Financial Times is to “ask reporters to take on subbing duties” is not quite, on initial examination, what it would appear to be. This is not so much getting rid of the subs as rethinking the subbing function, and is described in Media Guardian’s story as follows.

“In a briefing note, reporters were told that they must “take responsibility” for adding hyperlinks to their stories, run their own spell and style checks and write draft headlines. When stories are to appear in the newspaper, they must check for length. After reporters file their stories, desks check their links and metadata, refine headlines and add pictures, graphics and video. Another desk then subs and revises content for print and online before the story is proofread and published.”

I’d be interested to hear a view from the shop floor, but most of this sounds entirely reasonable. Expecting reporters to submit copy to a good standard, with spelling correct and at least a fair adherence to house style doesn’t seem unreasonable. Nor does asking for copy to be written to length. Adding hyperlinks to stories also seems reasonable, given that it’s something that can be done relatively easily during the course of researching a piece. 

Quite how much metadata reporters are expected to add is unclear from the general reference to the desk checks which are made once the story is filed, and there could be an argument that time reporters spend adding metadata could be better used in chasing down and researching the story. But it’s the mention of desk checks that’s most interesting.

On the face of it, the FT plan seems to be to get reporters to take on some of what have traditionally been regarded as subbing tasks in order to file copy to a reasonable standard. I can’t see much argument against this, and in fact it’s what writers in the magazine sector have been expected to do ever since I began working in mags 20 years ago. But there still looks to be a dedicated subbing or production function left in the FT system. Links are checked, images added, copy is subbed and revised and packages for print and for online are created. 

There’s still a recognition that getting the story and presenting the story require different sets of skills, and a recognition that applying more than one pair of eyes to a piece is beneficial. At first glance, the FT seems to be adjusting to new realities while also retaining the best of what’s gone before. This particular baby seems to have survived a change of bathwater.


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