October 09, 2003

Copy Editor's Code - and Lament

Tom Mangan, a rim rat for the San Jose Mercury News who says he's been gatekeeping copy "since the middle of the Reagan administration," which I figure makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the coming Arnold years, points to the Copy Editor's Code, a succinct, but well-reasoned list by Copy Massage whose first point is: "The newspaper begins and ends with the people reading it."

After re-reading the above sentence, I was reminded of the Copy Editor's Lament, a delicious piece of doggerel composed by George Martin, once of the night rim at the old San Francisco Examiner. Here's a taste:

I was sitting on the copydesk
just watching o'er the scene
when the dealer sent a juicy
story over to my screen.
It had power, sex and politics and violence - it was great;
and the headline on the dummy said:
- 6 column 48.

So I rearranged the commas
and I tidied up the lede
and I patched up all the typos
and gave it one more read.
I typed in all the coding
and prepared to write the hed
when a voice came from the news desk,
and this is what it said:

"Pass me back that dummy, please,
I have to change the page.
Composing found a missing ad,
the foreman's in a rage.
If they find the guy that lost it,
they'll be skinning him alive.
And that headline that you're working on ...
- make that a five."

It just gets better. Read it all.

As memorable, but much shorter was a song concocted by Eric Newton, now a person of some importance at the Knight Foundation, made up when he was the city editor and I was the editor of the now defunct Richmond (Calif.) Independent. Sing it to the theme song of "Rawhide":

Moving, Moving, Moving / Keep that copy moving, deadline / Cut it down / Head it up / Move it out / Deadline

No time for union wages / No respect for ages / Got to meet the bottom line / Deadline

Apologies to Roddy Yates.

Posted by Tim Porter at October 9, 2003 02:50 PM