Sub-editors scheme to sweeten their shifts

I shall survive

MAY'S London Freelance Branch meeting considered surviving as a sub - and dozens of subs came specially. They started a lively discussion even before the speakers had kicked off...

Tom Davies is an LFB committee member, and a specialist sports sub on a Sunday broadsheet: "Not the most glamorous job" but, as he says, "someone has got to do it!"

There is a huge number of subs in London - but, fed up with low pay and motivation as a reporter, Davies welcomed the opportunity to become a freelance sub. The work offered an increase in pay and the prospect of regular shift patterns. Although he admits to missing the creative input that he once had as a reporter, and laments being overlooked as a freelance when staff jobs become available, he enjoys his work. Even Sunday shifts booked at short notice.

Davies believes it is important for freelance subs to be able to network. He proposes an email scheme similar to the photographers' EPUK, where subs could discuss their own work issues, rates for the job and substituting for shifts offered when they're already booked.

Jenny Vaughan, LFB Equality Officer, shared her experiences as a freelance sub working from home. Problems arose when halfway into her job she found that her equipment was not compatible with the company she was working for - which exacerbated difficulties with the designers at the page-proof stage. Other problems arose with a lack of access to reference libraries - leading to many hours' Googling - and having to call up to check the company's house style. "If you can't do it - don't!" is the advice she gives.

Jenny Turner raised the issue of whether as a sub you can actually be "fulfilled" in your job. "You have so little power, stuck as you are between the commissioning editor and the writers - you end up becoming a huge shock-absorber" she said. Working for national publications, Turner was responsible for employing freelance subs and could see how the pressure had got to them. She said: "Most of them were quite angry."

Turner believes there is more to subbing than "fitting words into a box". She would like to see subs becoming more involved in the production process - but with the increase of casualisation and short-term contracts the struggle is going to be a long one.

But, as Tom says: "We as freelance subs need to get more involved with the NUJ Chapels in our workplaces to improve the subs' lot, for both freelances and staff alike."

Finally, Tim Harrison, a freelance sub, thought that the pressures inflicted on freelance subs depended on the office in which you worked and the colleagues with (or against) whom you worked. Harrison enjoys his nomadic existence and for him true job satisfaction is reaches it's pinnacle when, as he says: "I have fitted the perfect headline into a restricted space - that for me is pure fulfilment."

Take it away, Tim.

Last modified: 9 September 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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