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Great moments in copy desk history-III

It was an otherwise uneventful evening in May 1982. The copy desk at The Cincinnati Enquirer was at work on the first edition for the next day. Webb Matthews was reading the wires.

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. He shared a few pages of it one night in a bar; it was far from contemptible.

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.

Then the 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!”

 (If you’re under 40, ask your father why this is funny.)

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:41 AM | | Comments (4)
        

Comments

Alas, you have captured perfectly the morbid, grim, and brilliant [yes, I insist on that very unnewspaperish serial comma) aura of the newsroom. My own story: I was on the desk during the Jonestown tragedy. I was new at the "wire" desk (we actually had teletype machines). Turns out it was all speculation about mass suicides until someone discovered bodies. The discovery was around 1 or 1:30 a.m. The lament in the newsroom was that we had to break page 1.

I am under 40, so I did ask my father, who is definitely not under 40. He couldn't explain the humor.

Perhaps you would be willing?

I was afraid of this -- the treacherous slipperiness of pop culture allusions.

One of the cliches of "Leave It to Beaver" was that every time Ward Cleaver came through the front door of the house, he would sing out, "June, I'm home!"

I'm gratful for the reminder of Charlie Stough, whose BONG [Burnt-Out Newspapercreatures Guild] bulletin I've followed for years. Charlie's "BONG Song" encapsulates the kind of mordant copy desk humor that I was describing. I quote from memory -- and those of tender heart or stomach should stop reading RIGHT NOW:

The obit man's in tears again.
He's been forever in that shirt.
He writes those lovely words
Before they cover you with dirt.
He knew his predecessor,
The old man who held his place.
Before the landlord found the corpse
The Airedale ate his face.

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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 john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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