John McIntyre, the venerable former head of the Baltimore Sun’s copy desk and current night content production manager for the paper, has some stories to share about great moments in copy editing.
He decided to tell them now because copy desks are becoming a part of history due to “sharp-pencil corporate functionaries who do not believe in editing,” he wrote in a post on his Baltimore Sun blog. Wonder if any of those functionaries read his posts? No, probably not.
His latest offering recounts three “heroic moments of the craft” — a trio of stories about copy editors that highlights some of the best qualities of this breed of journalist. They are lovely, amusing tales. Read all three. Here’s one of them:
On an otherwise uneventful evening in May 1982, the copy desk at The Cincinnati Enquirer was at work on the first edition. Webb Matthews was following the wire services.
Webb was the sort of polymath who crops up on copy desks. He knew more about U.S. vice presidents (and had stronger opinions about them) than any man ought to. He was writing, in his free time, a verse drama in heroic couplets after the manner of Dryden.
As wire editor, Webb was monitoring the incoming news from the wire services to which The Enquirer subscribed, alerting editors on the news desk to updates and breaking news.
An announcement came from the Associated Press that Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver for 235 episodes of Leave It to Beaver, had died. Webb sang out, his voice carrying through the newsroom:
“June, I’m dead!”