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There were giants in those days

John Menzies died last week, a note from a colleague in Cincinnati advised me. He was 86, and an epoch passes with him. John served in the Marine Corps in the Second World War and suffered a head wound, which may explain why he became a copy editor. He was for many years the makeup editor in The Cincinnati Enquirer’s composing room.

A composing room — gather around, youngsters, Uncle John is going to tell you about the Old Times — was, after hot type gave way to offset printing, a large room where printers, wielding knife blades or razor blades, cut out articles and headlines and pasted them on the pages. As they made up the pages, their work was overseen by makeup editors from the newsroom.

John ambled through this chaotic environment with a loopy sense of humor. When the last page had been completed and sent through the door to be photographed for the making of a plate, John would duck into a cramped little room reserved for editors, get on the intercom, imitate a bosun’s whistle, and call out, "Sweepers, man your brooms."

He was once the subject of a memorable telephone call. The Enquirer in those days employed an editor of vaguely defined duties who acted as a production straw boss, mainly striding around the composing room and telling the printers that they were "running out of clock." He also favored the newsroom with this observation.

One night, as edition close approached, he called the news desk in a fury to complain, "I’m over here trying to get the paper out, and Menzies is over here trying to make it right."

There’s a whole history of American newspapering in that sentence.

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:36 PM | | Comments (2)


I saw the word "suss" in the sports pages today? Is that the first time "suss" has been used in the Sun? And what is its derivation? Is it colloquial? Or has it gained enough stature to not have to sit at the folding card table at holidays?

Goodness! This entry brings back many memories.
I started my career as a copy editor at a newspaper that still had a composing room -- or backshop -- in which Linotypes and other lead-based type machines figured prominently. The thing I remember most clearly is how printers of the time seemed almost magical in their ability to create a page out of an incredible number of thin strips of metal.
They could make stories shrink and grow seemingly at will with their only essential tool, a small square of steel that they used to separate, straighten and, occasionally, strip the lines of type.
When lead gave way to what became known as cold type -- the photographic reproduction of type on paper that compositors cut apart and stuck on paper sheets using hot wax -- a number of people with incredible skills were suddenly jobless.
Now, of course, even those people who clung to the cut-and-paste jobs that remained have been outsourced as pagination -- the electronic creation of entire pages of type that are sent to the press via phone lines where they are reproduced immediately as plates ready to print -- has become the most efficient method of makeup.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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