More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 110

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism’, is to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

HEADLINES are a problem at the paper.

After I have subbed copy, I write a headline.

A local Chinese editor then sometimes rewrites it. On the page, I then explain, if it is wrong, why and then we change it back.

Then a proof-reader (Chinese) looks at it and maybe changes it again. I go back to the page on the computer screen and maybe change it again.

But it’s after I leave the office that the real damage is frequently done. One of the chief editors goes back to the carefully-prepared page and wreaks havoc.

The worst example occurred towards the end of my time with the paper.

A famous Hong Kong female singer had tragically died. Everybody was upset and it was big news. I got the headline to fit neatly with the respectful phrase, ‘to be laid to rest today’.

When I picked up the paper the next morning, I read ‘… to be laid today’.

I felt obliged to make an issue of this in editorial conference. That did not go down well and I was told I had caused the chief editor to ‘lose face’.

I know many British newspaper editors who would have dealt with the matter rather more forcefully.