The Grey Cardigan 10.02.06

I DON’T suppose that at any point in his young life, Bob Woodward turned to his mother and said: "You know what, Ma? I really kinda fancy being one of those sub-editor fellas."

And I don’t suppose that Carl Bernstein emerged triumphant from his college course with a burning desire to tabulate snooker league tables in 6pt.

So it was with some surprise that I saw an enquiry posted on an internet message board last week asking how a young university graduate might train as a sub-editor. The response from one poster, clearly an aggrieved writer, wasn’t exactly edifying: "Has he got a beard, glasses, bad breath and an appalling taste in jumpers? Does he lack social skills and have a penchant for eating his lunch out of a Tupperware container and then spills it down his front and over his keyboard?"

"Does he live in his car? Is he prepared to shamelessly destroy a fabulous intro in order to steal it for ‘his’ headline and leave something soul-destroyingly (sic) bad in its place?"

"Can he take poetry and turn it into prose? Can he change the spelling of people’s names to something similar but wrong? And can he find something new to complain about every fucking moment of the day? If so, then he’s in."

Harsh, but I have to admit, occasionally true.

FEBRUARY IS a funny month at the best of times. Half the industry is falling off the wagon while the other half is climbing on. And then we get hit with two running national stories that, for various reasons, we can’t even report properly.

At the time of writing, no national has been prepared to publish the cartoons that have inspired some indignant Muslims to burn down Scandinavian embassies around the world. (And, incidentally, to boycott Danish goods. Denmark’s two biggest exports? Carlsberg lager and pork products. Go figure.)

I think that was probably the right decision. For a start, the cartoons were crap, and secondly the story was four days old before the British press got onto it. All that’s left then is to upset all your Muslim readers and, possibly more importantly, have your title boycotted by thousands of Asian newsagents.

EVEN MORE curious were the acres of newsprint dedicated to the mysterious case of Sol Campbell and his "personal problems".

Just about every Sunday had a page lead consisting mainly of waffle. It was as if every newsdesk expected there to be a story, but nobody seemed to know what it was.Let’s not beat about the bush here. We all knew that the News of the World was rumoured to be outing Campbell as having "gone camping on Brokeback Mountain". When it didn’t happen, it was too late to replace all those dodgy stand-by stories in other papers.

So why didn’t the NoW publish (if, by any chance, the story was true)? Well, having turned over Sven the shifty Swede a few weeks earlier, did someone consider the wisdom of hounding one of our better players out of the country in the run-up to the World Cup finals? Or did they fear another Fashanu more than a fans’ backlash?

Maybe someone wobbled on the so-called public interest justification. It would be nice to think that a more enlightened soul just said: "So what? Does it matter?" Although given that Graeme Le Saux hardly dared leave his house for two years after being fingered as a Guardian reader, the Neanderthals are obviously still among us.

IS THERE some kind of perverse macho game going on between newspaper managements as to who can inflict the deepest cuts on their regional titles?

I ask because of the shabby goings-on at a medium-sized evening paper in the north of England where, despite a good circulation performance, rumours suggest that all "live" editions are to be binned, leaving just one edition printed overnight, and a dozen staff are to get the dreaded brown envelope.

And what was the profit margin before the planned cuts? A pitiful 37 per cent. Shame on you all.

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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