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Great moments in copy desk history

More lore.

This occurred, I was reliably told, at a metropolitan daily newspaper. The figures involved, a columnist, a managing editor and a copy desk slotman, are still alive, so I am concealing their identities.

The central figure of this burlesque is the columnist, who does not speak. For convenience, call him Plodder. He is the marquee local columnist, and he is famously lazy. (Yes, I know, you are shocked, shocked, etc.)

You probably know the kind of column: inconsequential bits stuck together with ellipses and spit. The kind of column that includes funny bumper stickers readers have seen. The kind of column that has Departments Of. (When Plodder’s Department of Names That Match their Occupations included a urologist named Leake, the managing editor killed the item.)

Scene: The newsroom of one of America’s newspapers. No, no, no, it’s not in Baltimore. The copy desk slotman, at the center of the U-shaped copy desk, is preoccupied with getting copy typeset for the first edition. The managing editor approaches from behind the slotman, trailed by the pre-eminent local columnist.

M.E.: I hate to interrupt, but we have a problem.

SLOTMAN (not looking up from his work): What is it?

M.E.: We’ve lost the Plodder column.

SLOTMAN (still not looking up): What do you mean?

M.E.: I mean it’s gone. I can’t find it in the system. Tech support can’t find it. It’s been obliterated somehow.

SLOTMAN (shrugging, his eyes on the copy): Well, what does the copy desk have to go with it?

M.E. (grinning at his own wit): Well, I thought we’d have one of the copy editors write a Plodder column.

SLOTMAN: Can’t do it.

M.E.: Why not?

SLOTMAN: We don’t have anybody dumb enough.

Plodder turns on his heel and stalks away. Curtain.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:38 AM | | Comments (2)


I could apparently never be a copy editor under you. I am constantly amused by the appropriateness of people's surnames to their chosen occupations.

(Sadly enough, my maiden name was Wand, but absent a Hogwarts in the vicinity, I had no chance of becoming my own favorite pun.)

Fast-forward 20 years...

M.E.: I hate to interrupt, but we have a problem.

SLOTMAN: (not looking up from his work): What is it?

M.E.: We need to do more with less.

SLOTMAN (still not looking up): You mean "fewer"?

M.E.: Mmmyeah. Whatever. We're, uh, gonna need the copy desk to start designing pages and handling the Web site and organizing training seminars for the newsroom. And there may be TPS reports involved. (Grins at his own "wit.") We've determined that the copy desk really isn't as EFFICIENT as it could be.

SLOTMAN: I'm sure reporters, line editors and section editors will take on new responsibilities, too. Right?

M.E.: Mmmyeah. No. We need to keep our core solid. Plus, none of them really want to learn how to do layout. That's not why they're here, after all. But, they are all BLOGGING. Some of 'em are up to 200 page hits a day!

SLOTMAN (shrugging, his eyes on the copy): Fine. Who's going to write the headlines and generally protect the paper from looking silly or being sued?

M.E.: Mmmyeah. We're gonna have the designers become copy editors so the online folks can make pretty videos and PODCASTS. If you guys have time, maybe you can check the designers' headlines and, ya know, sorta check behind them. They're so "artsy." It's a new world.

SLOTMAN: Can't do it.

M.E.: Why not?

SLOTMAN: Because I care about this paper.

*Fade to black.*

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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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