Good sub-editing is the backbone of any newspaper: the act of quality control that gives a title a reputation for relevance and reliability. At The Independent, the role of the news sub-editor – the checking, refining and fitting of reporters' stories – has always had a particular character, since part of the paper's raison d'être, at its foundation in 1986, was that it should be a writer's title. The news agenda was to be generated by the reporters' ideas and initiative, rather than depending on the headlines of the latest television bulletin. Reporters were to put their stamp on the stories they wrote.
In most newspapers at the time great store was set by the imposition of a house style – not just in typographical matters, or modes of address, but in the sound of the stories – by ranks of sub-editors, primed to rewrite to a formula. The Independent chose a different approach: the reporters' voices would be heard in their writing, in news stories as much as in diary or comment articles. This made the balance of responsibility between reporter and sub-editor subtly different, and the demands on the sub-editor's feel for the music of a story all the more refined.
In the 23 years of The Independent's history no sub-editor has shown a better feel for how a story should read than Bob Hains. He was a member of the sub-editing team at the paper's launch, and became a key figure in setting the standard of the paper's news coverage. To borrow an analogy from football, a sport Hains loved and excelled at (he was a mainstay of The Independent's team in its early years), he became a crucial joint in the "spine" of the team – linking editor to news editor, to page designer, to sub-editor to printer – that delivers the finished paper to the reader. And since 2000 he had been head of the news sub-editors, as chief revise sub-editor.
Bob Hains was born in Moseley, Birmingham, in 1952, the elder child of a newsagent. He and his sister grew up in a family of tennis-players, and the young Bob showed promise at this sport, as well as cricket and football, during his years at King Edward Grammar School, Birmingham. He went up to Hull University to study business studies, but, finding the course not to his liking, moved to Sheffield University to study journalism and media.
His first job in journalism was as a junior reporter at the Leamington Spa Courier. During his time at the Courier he realised that sub-editing was his true métier, and it was in that role that he joined the Oxford County Newspapers group in 1980. In the summer of 1986 a former Oxford colleague, Chris Gilbert, invited him to join the founding news sub-editing team during the heady days of The Independent's launch. Hains was strongly attracted by the paper's agenda, not least its decision to eschew meaningless coverage of the doings of the Royal Family, and remained so for the rest of his career, leading him to resist the temptation of joining any other newspaper.
Hains always had a strong feel for history, politics and popular music, and passed on his wide knowledge to his son and daughter, as well as his love of sport, his affection for Aston Villa, and boy-scout skills (Pembrokeshire and Norfolk were favourite locations for family camping holidays). He brought an air of the outdoors to the office, short-sleeved and sun-touched even in the dreariest of English summers, and was as alert and unflappable in executing the coverage of big news stories – the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Balkan and Gulf campaigns; 9/11 and 7/7; the 2005 tsunami – as in the managing of work when The Independent became the first dual-format newspaper in 2003. Last year he took leave from the office for a bone-marrow transplant, the legacy of two periods of treatment by chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease in the 1980s.
As chief revise sub-editor, Hains had the final responsibility for the integrity of a story, and for ensuring that it read with what Hazlitt called "familiar" English, free from journalese or cliché. If a point needed to be raised with a reporter or editor, he would set off across the office floor, approaching their desk with his easy, elastic gait, and could be seen bent in tactful, professorial conversation with a colleague. With his dry sense of humour, offset by his remarkably wide smile, he was adept at handling the sometimes tricky negotiations that ensued. But he could equally be adamant, and was listened to, where a story failed the test: where it lacked impartiality; where its argument failed to back up its premise; or where it made the newspaper vulnerable to a lawsuit for libel.
Bob Hains liked to describe himself as a hardened cynic, but the effect he had at work was that of a tuning-fork for his department, setting a happy note of affable authority. And for the past decade he was an inspiring leader of his team, the final arbiter of accuracy and intent as The Independent was sent to press.
Robert Hains, journalist; born Moseley, Birmingham 2 July 1952; junior reporter and sub-editor, Leamington Spa Courier; sub-editor, Oxford and County Newspapers 1980-86; staff journalist, The Independent 1986-2009, sub-editor 1986-2000, deputy revise sub-editor 2000, chief revise sub-editor 2000-09; married 1985 Lou (Linda) Graham (one son, one daughter); died London 27 November 2009.