Great moments in copy desk history
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.