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The Copy Editor's Lament: George Martin's elegy for desk editors.

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The Copy Editor's Lament
By George Martin

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."

Four columns? Well, that's tougher
but a deskman does his best
to keep the story's gist intact
and leave out all the rest.
I thought a little while,
and then my hands did fly
But just before the head was writ,
I heard the news desk cry:

"Pass me back that dummy please,
I have to make a fix.
It really needs a graphic
or the editor will bitch.
They'll make it on the Macintosh
and ship it here to me.
And that headline you are writing ...
- make that a three."

Now a head that's just three columns
forces choices quite absurd
do you write it as a label
or just use only verbs?
I struggled and I puzzled
and at last I did compose.
When over at the news desk
a voice once more arose:

"Pass me back that dummy, please,
I have to make a change.
How I forgot the sidebar,
is really very strange.
A page without a sidebar,
would make the reader blue.
And that headline you are writing ...
- make that a two."

Now a head that's just two columns
is a challenge and a strain;
they often make no sense at all,
to write them is a pain.
I finally got a concept
but before I put it down
I looked up from my VDT
and saw the news desk frown.

"Pass me back that dummy, please
there's one more thing to do.
We have to have a locator map;
the reader needs a clue
to where this all is coming down
and where it's being done.
And that headline you are writing ...
- make that a one.

Sometimes a copy editor
is like a cornered rat,
hemmed in and surrounded,
his hopes collapsed and flat.
There's no way out, all one can do
is fight with tooth and claw.
This time 'twas so, and so I wrote:


Note: George Martin was a copy editor at the San Francisco Examiner.

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