HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsTribute to Taka: A super sub

Tribute to Taka: A super sub

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NewsDay Deputy Chief Sub Editor Cledwyn Takavengwa “Taka” Walter Muparutsa,  who died last week, was, to me, a remarkable character both personally and professionally.
Report by Conway Tutani
I first knew Taka closely in 2001 when he joined us at the Daily News before its forced closure in 2003, reuniting with him at NewsDay in 2010 when the paper was established. He immediately struck me as personable; he had a pleasant manner and disposition. With him, this refinement and propriety of manner was a result of grounding at a private, mostly white, school, not out of artificial sophistication. Even though, we still found this amusing at his expense, but always in good spirit. Whenever a page was complete, he would say: “It’s good to go” in the most British way.

As we got to know each other better,  Taka confided in me his personal joys and sorrows. One morning early this year before he fell ill, he said this to me wistfully: “Mr Toots, my mother died on this very day.” He always referred to me as “Mr Toots” without fail.

He also had the look of a gentle giant (though he was of middle height) with his bulging biceps and barrel of a chest. When I got to know that he was a karate dan, this explained everything.

We also belonged to a unique minority club: We were both left-handers and avid — if not rabid — supporters of English Premiership football side Tottenham Hotspur.  But we differed on Dynamos — intensely so. You can’t agree on everything. But I used to  tease him:  “Taka, are you colour-blind? I support the blue in London  and the blue here, but here you go for green.”

As far as his job as a sub editor was concerned, Taka’s profile and style epitomised it in many ways. Although he was new to it in 2001, it didn’t take long for him to catch on. After all, he had the educational background and the aptitude,  thus making him trainable.

Like other journalism roles, sub-editing is demanding and requires constant attention to detail within a fast-paced working environment. In the case of daily newspapers such as NewsDay, as the night gets older, one has to constantly shift and strike a balance between accuracy and deadlines. What is the point of producing a completely error-less newspaper that gets on the streets at midday, six or so hours after our competitors have sold out or nearly done so? At times, Taka — being the perfectionist he was — would get bogged down, but we always reminded each other to keep on course and on time.

So in balancing time and accuracy, errors are bound to happen. A serious error in a newspaper not so long ago read “by PUBIC demand” instead of “by PUBLIC demand”. So what may appear as stupid mistakes in the paper the next day, are not really that stupid, but circumstantial.

But many people do not know that sub editors (called subs in the profession) — like Taka was — exist and yet they are the bridge between the writers and the readers. Stories do not appear in the newspaper as filed by the writer. The state of some of the raw copy that has to be knocked into shape is unimaginable. It could be badly structured, poorly spelt, appallingly punctuated, lazily researched. This is where sub editors — such as Taka was — intervene.  That’s why some journalists recruited into public relations or by non-governmental organisations purely on the basis of published articles have failed because they will have no one to  correct and polish their stories to be readable and comprehensible. That’s why the Chief Sub Editor during our days at the Daily News bluntly told the Political Editor that she must share the prize money she had been awarded as best in her category with sub editors because they had extensively rewritten her stories. It’s a shame that up to now, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists doesn’t have awards for sub editors yet they know exactly what newspaper production involves. They should take a leaf from American magazine Newsweek which has been fair by specifying a news item as reported by so-and-so and written by so-and-so because the final article which appears in the paper cannot be solely attributed to the reporter as many subtractions and additions are made along the chain to make it complete, comprehensible and readable taking into account factors such as good taste and legality — which Taka was good at.

But people only notice when subs don’t do the job perfectly, but not all blame must be piled on them as a matter of course. Subs might make a correction, but the error could be reinstated further up the line such as used to happen with this editor — who had more presence than substance — who was in the dark that it should read “sporting a tie”, not “spotting a tie”; and pronounced and spelt “access” as “assess”, leaving everyone confused.

But subs with knowledge and facts on their side ultimately make the difference — such was Taka.

To me, he was a super sub, not to mention a dear friend.

Rest in peace, Taka.

ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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