I know many people have this problem. In the four offices, I have
worked as a sub-editor I have faced this problem in three. In the
other one office, which was the exception, I worked and worked till
I had to go home … only to sleep and resume work again.
But coming back to the other three offices … the reason we had to
act like we were working, when there was no work … was because:
1) we had an eight-hour working day, so everyone had to report for
duty by 4.00 pm whether we had work or not
2) we had to wait patiently for the reporters to send their copies
so that we could start hacking them (since their deadline was 10.30
and our deadline 1.30, we usually worked real hard only in those few
hours). So between 4.00 and 6.30 pm we discussed politics (of the
real kind) and engaged in politics (of the office kind); we
discussed the rottenness of the tea and baji we were having, the
failings of editors, reporters and the few sub-editors who were not
3) the editors want to see everybody hard at work. Now try figuring
this out … you don’t have any work because the reporter hasn’t
filed any story. But the reason why the editor likes to see you busy
is because he has to be bossing everyone and getting work done. No
wonder all the editors in the print media have grey hair.
4) Everyone can drop the pretense, only when the news starts flowing.
On lean days like Sunday and Saturday with no high court, no
Assembly, no schools and every other government office working half-
a-day or not at all, the poor reporter is hard-pressed to give news.
So we have to think, create … There you have it! Create news! So
stuff, which the reporter would treat like leprosy would be covered
on Sundays and Saturdays. Kindergarten-graduation ceremonies, Rotary
club events, Exnora events, school functions, ladies club’ luncheon,
kids’ fashion shows get coverage during the weekend. So to fill-up
the space, the reporter files such space-fillers. And the newly-
joined sub-editor with oodles of enthusiasm proceeds to chop it down
to size. When the story makes it to the page, cut down to size, the
problem crops up again. We need more stories: cries the desk. The
reporter next starts rehashing old stories, printing off everything
that comes from the news feed, and files more stories on
kindergarten-graduation ceremonies, Rotary club events, Exnora
events, school functions, ladies club’ luncheon and kids’ fashion
So, in between all of this, the sub-editor might find himself
jobless. An average sub’s day will look like this:
4.00 to 6.00 pm — Drink coffee, tea, have bajis, discuss world
6.00 to 6.30 pm — Hear the outcome of the 6 o’ clock editorial
meeting and get a frank, brutal show-down of all the things that
he/she did that went wrong.
6.30 pm to 8.30 pm — Slowly, patiently sub copies, giving lots of
attention to details, accuracy and checking facts as the news starts
9.30 pm to 10.30 pm — Get worried and start panicking as half the
stories that were supposed to come have not done so and the page is
10.30 pm to 11.30 pm — Grab dinner like a relay race. Just like how
only one person can hold the baton, only one person can have dinner
at one particular point of time. So the rest wait for their turn in
the relay race.
11.20 pm to 12.30 pm — Bad tempers, hasty words, lots of yelling
all round. The sub starts subbing stories by running a spell-check
on them and releasing it onto the page, while keeping his/her
12.30 pm to 1.30 pm — Everyone breaks out into a sweat. Everyone
keeps a rein on their temper so that nothing will impede the process
of sending the page on time. Everyone is silent so that they can
hear the occasional “Pl change this to … that”
1.30 pm — Deadline. Page sent! After all that adrenalin rush,
everyone goes down to the local tea shop for the mandatory cup of
tea and to sweeten up all the people they yelled at so that they can
work with them peaceably and amicably till the next deadline.
So between 4.00 and 6.00 pm, the smart sub-editor could open
his friends’ blogs and most importantly the online edition of The
Hindu. This is so that if your boss, hovers anywhere near your desk,
you can immediately switch to The Hindu website, to show him that
you were not enjoying yourself on the net.
The smart sub-editor could go to sleep with his hand over his
forehead (to hide his drooping eyelids) while leaning over the news
stand, so that innocent bystanders can think that he’s absorbed in
the latest installment of the Telegraph.
The smart sub-editor could also not turn up for the boring first two
hours, by thinking up inventive lies like “I had to speak at a
meeting of the Reporter’s Guild,” “I had to attend a seminar on the
clever use of invectives.”
Well, this smart sub-editor has finished writing up one post in the
prelude to real work.