Note to subs: please insert headline here...

Sub-editing: Even the most meticulous can commit blunders, as David Randall reveals

In the dog days of August, as executives gather round the dying embers of silly season stories, talk inevitably turns to that abiding concern of newspaper life: what was our greatest cock-up, and can I avoid responsibility for it?

In the dog days of August, as executives gather round the dying embers of silly season stories, talk inevitably turns to that abiding concern of newspaper life: what was our greatest cock-up, and can I avoid responsibility for it?

On the Southern Reporter, based in Selkirk, this summer has already provided the answers. The calamity arose from the ill-advised practice of writing some jocular words beneath a picture, safe in the assumption that a colleague will fill in with something more suitable before the page goes to press. In this case, the paper had a picture of people at the traditional St Ronan's Games week and Cleikum Ceremonies. Underneath it, some joker had written: "Caption, caption about these pious little bleeders and the lady busser doing that interminably boring thing so cherished by Border festivals. What on earth is going on in this picture - these people have got to get out more often for their peace of mind and sanity." Sure enough, this cod caption was published. Exit one editor.

Many famous foul-ups do seem to involve photographs. There was the paper that illustrated a particularly gory news story about serial killers Fred and Rose West with pictures of a leading Quebec separatist and his good lady, and last year copies of the Newbury Weekly News had to be recalled after a story about a local priest facing child pornography charges carried the likeness of another, entirely blameless, Berkshire churchman.

Pictures of the unfamiliar are, indeed, the bane of subeditors' lives - witness the apology once carried by the Pasack Valley Community Life: "In last week's issue, a picture caption listed some unusual gourmet dishes enjoyed at a Westwood Library party... Mai Thai Finn was in the center of the photo. We incorrectly listed her name as one of the items on the menu..."

Let's be frank, corrections, unless you are the guilty party, are an unfailing source of delight. I once had the pleasure of inserting a belated one into The Observer, correcting a mis-reporting of the date of Mozart's death, 200 years after the story first ran. The prize, however, should surely go to the Virginian-Pilot, that in December 2003, ran a correction to its 1903 story of the Wright Brothers' historic flight. This original story contained no fewer than 31 errors and the correction ran to 559 words. So much for declining standards.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?