An Old Newspaperman’s Lament

Another guest post – today from The Pub’s special correspondent Scringler. Many thanks, sir!

FOR my sins, I found myself many moons ago as Deputy Features Editor on a major daily tabloid rag.

(I began in newspapers as a cadet then staff photographer on a major broadsheet daily in the mid 1960s. Yep, Leicas!)

Jumping forward. The then editor of the tabloid was a good bloke, steeped in the ethics and craft of journalism. He was the last of the breed.

The next editor was a notorious piss-pot. As an editor, he had the makings of a half-suitable, down-table sub. He knew his commas. (Years later, he reappeared on another newspaper – as a down-table sub. It was a sorry sight.)


This was a time when newspapers were fiddling with computers. As a youngish stick-in-the mud I, along with my colleagues, poured shit on the concept of computers replacing linotype machines. Hardly decent.

However, in my “responsible” position, I became a guinea pig. There was this computer guru who believed that newspapers could be produced – on a computer! What a dickhead!

Then I was given a tour of the inner sanctum – the computer room. Two massive units, both with cosy names … bloody scary. Shit. Welcome to future shock.

Later, the guru presented me with some yarn or other for the next edition. It was on a disc, or something. I peered at the words on a tiny computer screen – and recklessly pressed the tit.

This is a big claim, and open to correction, but I think I might have been responsible for the first-ever, computer-produced page published in a major metropolitan newspaper. Sorry.

It looked like shit. A great wodge of daunting type. Dense. Like a Paul Kelly or a Michelle Grattan special – with extra fog.

But what I failed to realise was that it was an omen of things to come. When the time-honoured checks and balances would be phased out.

That night, when the organ was printed, during a special committee meeting after midnight at the pub, upstairs in the Press Bar, I copped sustained, heavy flak.

Details are somewhat vague. Suffice to say that the ultimate view was: This shit won’t work.

It all went downhill from there. As was our wont, we had several for the road. One or two for the New Guinea Potoroo, poor little endangered bastard.

Then … various threatened birds.

We were prize dills.


Years earlier, I found myself subbing on a regional daily. One hazy afternoon, subbing stuff, half asleep … the chief sub fell on the floor. And went, sort of, pink. This was unusual.

Of course, we were somewhat concerned. We did notice that he had a slip of copy paper clutched tightly in his hand.

The paper, at that time, retained a dear old soul who wrote the wedding notes. Marg was a product of a sheltered life, not a nasty bone in her body. She saw, she reported.

Marg regarded sub-editors as a form of low life, cockroach level, and would not allow changes to her copy.


Moving on … Editors came and went. Not your normal run of piss-pots. Rather, hard-edged arseholes with an agenda. One, I believe, fled west.

Several years earlier, along with about six others, I was declared “redundant” by a Murdoch publication.

Out of the blue. Whack.

My colleagues transported me to the Celtic Club for calming ales. We were, I now realise, in shock.

The act was brief and brutal. I was given no time to clear my desk.

I could not collect my belongings. The front door was secured by … guards. Yes. Possibly armed.

Get fucked, said my colleagues: suffice to say, my meagre possessions were, in due course, returned. Thanks for that experience Rupert, you prick.

My late partner, Jo Anne, picked me up after this episode.

Jo Anne seethed for many years about this and never forgave. Jo Anne was a champion hater, blessed with a long memory. She loathed Abbott. “A poor excuse for a man.”


Anyway, much later, I joined the mob up the road. The chief sub, an honourable bloke with more than a passing interest in quality journalism, shouted me a beer or two in the Bog Bar. It was good and pleasant company.

Then, a tour of the premises. At this point, it must be admitted, your correspondent was nudging non-walking mode.

I bought a linotype machine. For 50 bucks. They were lined up in a loading bay, ready for collection by a scrap-metal merchant.


Then came years of hard slog. Wading through great gobs of text, written by ego-besotted wankers.

This was the era of the “downsizing” fad. Anyone aged 30 was considered old and smelly.

Part of a sub’s job is to check the use of foreign words, in this case French.

Forget the word but, upon checking, it was not only wrong, it contradicted the author’s premise.

I had a friendly chat with the author, and she said: “Yes. I know. But I like the look of the word.”

At this point, I gave up. What is the point?

Not long after, I resigned and, after more hard slog, became an archaeologist/specialist photographer.

As someone famously said: “The answer lies in the soil.”


Looking back, I’m grateful I saw true craftsmen in action. (Sorry, very few women about in those days). The linotype operators, the bloke operating the Ludlow machine, the dedicated readers, the whole system of checks and balances.

Oh, and … I never did get my linotype machine. Never trust a journalist.


Oh, before I forget. On the slip of copy paper, neatly typed, Marg wrote: “Beryl walked down the aisle with her hands in her furry muff.”

This taught me a lesson about subbing. READ. EVERY. WORD.

We revived the chief sub and took beer in order to work out a strategy to tackle Marg and the necessary change to her copy.

You see, subs were human.

(Photo credit: Weddingbee)


1,453 thoughts on “An Old Newspaperman’s Lament

  1. I see Leroy is asking about the PPL thing too. Here’s where I got it from:

    Rhys Muldoon ‏@rhysam 44m

    “My HOPE is we can implement the Paid Parental Leave Scheme” TAbbott on #abc730 And there goes that promise. Dead. Buried. Cremated.

  2. victoria
    Very wise of you, it was a complete waste of time.

    I’m wondering if Leigh Sales will nominate herself for another Walkley for that piece of crap. Worst piece of cue-card reading by a TV presenter would be about the only category she could enter. She’d be a cert to win, I’ve never seen anything so fake.

  3. I’d like to see Anthony (I fight Tories) Albanese say “He doesn’t have the ticker to be PM”

  4. victoria
    There have been a few people on Twitter making excuses for her, all saying much the same thing – Abbott wouldn’t do the interview unless his conditions were agreed to. Even so, if she had any guts at all she would have made that clear at the end -‘This interveiw was done according to stringent conditions imposed by Mr Abbott’s office’ sort of thing. She didn’t.

  5. Hi Aguirre

    Yes, got home and saw the chat here and elsewhere. Looks like he’s setting up to pull the PPL. Not liked in the electorate anyway, but that just leaves “Direct Action” as the one positive agenda item, doesn’t it?

  6. “There have been a few people on Twitter making excuses for her, all saying much the same thing – Abbott wouldn’t do the interview unless his conditions were agreed”

    As someone said: “Do it once and do it right!”

    I wonder who that was …

  7. There was way, way too much build up to this interview by some lefties on twitter. From now until the election, any TV interviews with Abbott will be non events. Will neither help nor hurt him. He’s now media trained to inertia.

    Also, the general public do not watch these shows. He is not going to be undone by some interview show.

  8. I remembered this one. Might apply to one Tony Abbott:

    There was a young man from Australia
    Who Painted his bum with a Daliah
    The colour was fine
    Also the design
    But the smell was a bit of a failure

  9. Leroy – I think that is the case, yes. But Direct Action is dead too. Not that he’s said as much, but it’s attracting so much criticism from various sections of the community,and the details are so sketchy, that it won’t survive.

    I think all he has left is repealing carbon pricing and turning boats back as the policy specifics he’s actually committed to. But…

    – Carbon Pricing is a bit of a mess for him, because he simply won’t say what is going to happen to the tax breaks we got as a result of it. There’s a lot of talk in the business community that he can’t cut the revenue stream without re-setting the tax margins. He’s gone all vague on it.

    – Turning the boats back requires some sort of understanding reached with Indonesia. Won’t work otherwise, unless he intends picking a fight with the Indonesians. I think that one is going to go into the “we’d like to turn the boats back where possible” basket.

    There’s a fair chance we’re only a week or two away from Abbott having nothing at all on the table. He’ll probably have to stick with his Carbon Tax promise, but he can’t actually talk about it because “What about the tax cuts?” is the first question he gets asked on that topic.

  10. LKevin12
    It is a great letter, and it explains why we don’t have ‘one journo to call out this fraud, just bloody one!!’, as victoria said a little while ago.

  11. One by one Abbott’s “policies” are biting the dust or being emasculated. At this rate he’ll have nothing left for September.

  12. Tony Windsor knows what he is in for, so does Rob Oakeshott. The Nats will throw millions into their campaigns in New England and Lyne and they will use every filthy trick in the book.

  13. “We need to f**k up our economy so we can be at parity with most of the rest of the world”.
    This seems to be the only policy Abbott has.

  14. BK, it should be ‘like CO2 they are colourless, odourless but UNLIKE CO2 they are also weightless’

  15. The reason Sales conducted such a weak interview? I’d say there’s a trade-off in the minds of the 7.30 people. Just getting him on the show is a coup, it gets people talking. But it’s obvious he won’t go near the place unless his minders can control the whole experience. Someone at 7.30 has made a decision between the opposing concepts of Bullshit Interview vs Publicity, and decreed it was worth it.

    Ultimately, though, every soft interview he gets works against him. If he survives a tough one, his stakes rise. But his minders have ample evidence that he won’t survive a tough one. So it won’t happen. If he gets the foot-rub, there’s nothing to talk about, and it reinforces the belief that he is soft. He can’t sell that interview from tonight. He probably just did it to get everyone off his back about going on these shows.

    And it means that every presser he sets up looks more and more pointless and ridiculous. They are now reminders that he can’t and won’t answer tough questions. The tough questions are out there now. We know what they are. So he’s damaged goods.

    Make no mistake. There’s no way out of that for him now. He’s been jettisoning policy commitments all over the place. He won’t re-make the commitments. So the pool of material he has to draw on gets smaller each week.

  16. I knew the interview was going to be pukeworthy, platitudinous pap retailed by a pusillanimous product of the increasingly putrescent ABC, as soon as I heard her say, “It’s now very likely that you will be Prime Minister after September…” It went downhill at an alarming rate from there.

    Leroy Lynch is correct to state that Abbott is on Autopilot from now until the election. He wants the job as ‘The Authority’ so bad he can taste it, and it is now so deliciously close and within his grasp that he will not screw it up at the last hurdle to attaining his lifelong dream, and the dream of his parents.
    As that’s what he also does not want to do, disappoint his parents. Again.
    He is the ultimate Mummy’s Boy and Apple of His Father’s Eye, all rolled into one rancid and rabid whole.

    We can all rant and rave about the fact that he refuses to answer even reasonable questions with anything more than bromides or pablum, or those ridiculous scripted lines that he trots out with monotonous regularity these days. However, all that he and ‘Team Tony’ care about is that he, as Aguirre so aptly put it, gets through the maze and out the other side with only a mild electrical shock, by the time the interviewer says, “And that’s all we have time for, thank you for coming in to do the interview”.

    You see, now his turgid team can trumpet the fact he hasn’t run away from another interview with Leigh ‘Walkley’ Sales. That’s all tonight’s effort was for.

    So, therefore, IMHO, there is only one thing that might make the wheels come off for ‘Team Abbott’. As the fix is obviously in with the media, who now regularly state to his face that, in their opinion, he is home and hosed.
    Therefore, let’s hope that the Labor Party have a momentum-killer of a campaign lined up. The only thing left that ‘Team Abbott’ and the media will not be able to fully control.

  17. I’m unimpressed with Mad as Hell this week. It’s reverted back to the “Inevitable Abbott victory/sneer and spit venom at everything Labor does/take everything the Liberals say at face value” narrative.

    Sure there was a bit of gentle ridicule about the Coalition to start off with about the ‘cut his throat’ comment, but I didn’t laugh at all this episode. All Shaun seemed to be doing after that was smugly emphasizing Liberal frontbenchers.

  18. TLBD,

    Of course!

    Apropos last night’s conundrum, I am re-reading Rex Stout’s In the Best Families. The portrait clue was Philibert, Prince of Savoy, to whom Nero Wolfe compared himself after his rapid weight loss.

    But I must say that I preferred Puffy’s answer!

  19. That Dick Smith letter is pretty old, a few months I think. That blog today was just re-posting it, which wasn’t made clear.

  20. At least PvO’s interview on Sunday was done live. Abbott didn’t cope too well with it either. From now on it will be pre-recorded, carefully orchestrated, prepared answers to prepared questions only pap. I’m not going to bother with any of it. I expect live, in the studio, no wires or earpieces or autocues allowed. If Abbott can’t handle that then how on earth is he going to cope with being PM?

  21. One thing that TA did state quite clearly, I thought, was that the School Kids payment was gone and the raising of the Tax Free Threshold was gone…. can’t recall him actually stating that so clearly previously (could be wrong) aside from skirting around the issue with regard to saying wtte that if there was no carbon tax then it wasn’t necessary for the compensation to remain. Can’t think why he thinks that’s a vote winner for him if it ever seeps into the consciousness of “the battlers”. Does he really believe they are in such awe of him (feeling quite ill now) that they will take this punishment for his sake??!!

  22. I haven’t deserted…I’m just exhausted!….mostly lurking all over….
    BK. carting the horses over to Echunga tomorrow…am passing through Mt. Torrens abt. 10.15…look for big brown Bedford bull-nose w/ horse box…give us a wave if spotted!

  23. I don’t see evidence of Abbott reading from a script.

    But this is a good interview for Abbott. He only needs to get through these things unscathed for it to be a win for him. He’s succeeded tonight.

  24. I don’t think he was reading either, I’m sticking with the earwig theory. He was very careful to keep that ear away from the camera, and there would have been no wires to show.

  25. Fiona,

    When I have finished that one, may I have one without the strawbs?

    I used to do rum, lime juice and sugar syrup with no non-essentials. In a blender with ice. I don’t fancy the glass frosting.

    Have a pisco sour ready, just in case.

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