Archive | November, 2022

I’m a believer

22 Nov

Don’t you think it looks just like them? What, you don’t?

In an embarrassing incident in the Tribune’s news section recently, this picture was sent through by the picture desk to illustrate a story about Monkees memorabilia, went to the sub, who didn’t notice anything wrong, then into revise for me, who didn’t notice anything wrong, then to the production editor and duty editor, who didn’t notice anything wrong, then to the newsstand, whereupon almost everybody immediately pointed out that – yes – those aren’t actually the Monkees.

This always happens on large pictures on page three, doesn’t it? Never to little ones in the Nibs. Anyway, these are the four lead actors in Daydream Believer: The Monkees Story, a now little-seen and modestly rated biopic that came out in 2000.

I can’t even claim to have not looked at the picture. I was totally fooled by Davy Jones (George Stanchev), thought Michael Nesmith (Jeff Geddis)’s body language looked convincing, then stared at LB Fisher on the right of the group and thought “wow, Peter Tork looks young”. Not a trace of doubt in my mind. (In my defence, even Variety, while not very taken with the film, was reportedly impressed with the “close replicas of the original Davy, Mike, Micky and Peter”.)

Admittedly, once the inquest has begun, you immediately notice that Dolenz (Aaron Lohr) is perhaps a little less of a lookalike than the others. Also, there’s a distinctly modern-looking car in the background of the picture. Also, if you’re going to get seriously forensic about it, that shop in the background appears to be a branch of the convenience chain Rabba, which operates almost entirely in Ontario. (Although no reason, I guess, why the “prefab four” – as I discover they were wittily known – shouldn’t have been in Canada in the 1960s).

The BBC once broadcast footage of Bob Dylan that turned out to be of a Bob Dylan impersonator. I used to think that might have been because the person who chose the footage was one or even two generations younger than the fans who would notice. But I watched The Monkees myself when I was growing up, for heaven’s sake. All together now, as this blog has said many times, not least to itself: captions have a shorter path into print than any other component on a page.

All sorts of things can go wrong. The agency caption might be ambiguous. The agency caption might be wrong. The agency caption might be right, but nobody has read it closely enough. The revise sub is probably the last person who will read it closely before the readers do. So when you’re revising them, you can’t just be a believer. You’ve got to see their faces.


Pity and error

8 Nov

The Tribune has been running a headline competition in recent months, and with the self-effacing reticence that characterises our profession, I have been showing off shamelessly trying to win it. (Not entirely successfully: because you have to be nominated by your peers to get in, not all one’s efforts bear fruit. On one story about enfant terrible Jake Chapman’s first solo art exhibition without his sibling Dinos, I wrote the kicker “Art brother, where are you?” and sat back in proud expectation, only for it to pass through the revise queue without comment and vanish from sight.)

You would think such competitions would be the pinnacle of a sub-editor’s career – that success would be like winning an intra-office Oscar. But of course they aren’t: copy-editors are not naturally born to triumph. The yardstick that really measures our lives is a much more negative and sobering one: the corrections column.

Perhaps there are some of us who never feel the need to look at them, or read the daily email of shame from the readers’ editor, but on the Tribune’s business desk, the Production Editor and I are riveted to the corrections. They appear on our Visual Planner software on Friday afternoons in the Comment section, at which point work fairly soon stops and we click to view. Even before calling up the preview, you can see on the little page thumbnail how many corrections there are from the size of the box: just a few inches deep, with a reader’s letter underneath? Phew: not too many this week. Filling the whole depth of the column? Uh-oh.

Then we begin reading, nervous of seeing a subject or headline we recognise. “In our recipe for sourdough batons…” Nope. “Mussorgsky did not, as we stated last week…” Nope: Review section. “In our story on British technology startups …” Oh shit. Crushed again by a misconverted currency or even a reporter’s error that we could have discovered with a little more effort, we confess to each other our sins.

My own career low point occurred when an entire corrections columns ended up being filled with errors perpetrated in a piece I had edited. Written by a famously bohemian correspondent in New York about former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, it arrived from the desk very late and full of vaguenesses, writerly flourishes and unrebutted hearsay. Foolishly, given the hour, I thought to myself “I can save it!” and tried to fudge or cut as much as possible of the dubious stuff so as not to miss deadline. (MEMO: Never do this. No matter how late it is, if a piece is obviously undercooked and substandard, send it back and have a row with the desk. You can’t “save it”.) Brown rightly complained and it emerged that, in the chaos, I had even contrived to miscalculate her age.

None of our anxiety about corrections is relieved by the emerging phenomenon of what we might call Readers’ Editing as Performance. This blog has fulminated before about corrections columns that have fun picking apart the editorial cartoon or making erudite jokes about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s all great fun for the people who haven’t made the mistake: and when it isn’t really a mistake at all, even those jokey “corrections” still rankle. That’s why, despite the cock-up being as good as this one – because, you know, the irony – you can’t help feeling a pang for the person who missed it.

(h/t Joe McNally at Horny Handed Subs of Toil)