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I have a bad feeling about this

To allude to another sci-fi cliche, we all know the “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” signs. The “check engine” light on the dashboard goes on, the robo-call from the credit card company, the spouse who says, “We need to have a talk.” (The last meaning “you need to have a listen.”) The newsroom also abounds in warnings, for those who know how to interpret them.

The Synod of Editors

You look up from your desk, and there, across the room, three or four editors are standing over some poor sweating schlimazel at a keyboard, all talking at the same time and pointing. You know at once that (a) this thing is going to be late, and (b) it’s going to carry more fossil traces of earlier versions than there are trilobites in the Burgess Shale.

The Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object

The writer submits an article, prefacing it with an announcement that it is so tightly knit that it simply cannot be cut. You examine the text and quickly determine that (a) it is laden with background, padding, and paragraphs copied and pasted from previously published articles, (b) it will take perhaps fifteen minutes to cut it to the budgeted length, which is all there is room for in the print edition, and (c) you will not be able to get to it without thirty minutes of wrangling with the writer.

The Speed of News

The wire service editor promises you that absolutely, certainly, without a doubt, you will get the updated story no later than 8:30.

You will still be waiting for it at 9:15, as you follow developing events on television, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Digital Age

Many improvements are promised in the upgrade of the computer software. You will (a) get twenty minutes of curbside training on the baffling new formats, (b) your machine will freeze on edition deadline, or start copying text from unrelated stories, or refuse to output, and (c) no one in IT answers the phone.

The Tap

Your supervisor stops by your work station and says, “Could you come to my office, please.”



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:11 PM | | Comments (12)


In startups, the warning sign is "We're having some meetings we want you all to come to; make sure you check which room you're in."

Alternately, when the HR person from the parent corporation shows up early on a day when s/he doesn't normally do so.

Wonderful! Thanks, sir.

I used to hate it when an editor would look up from my copy and ask, "What are you trying to say?"

Decades ago the Des Moines Register had a helpful editor. He would whisper into the ear of any reporter whose fingers were frozen over the keyboard, "Lower your standards."

The wire service editor promises you that absolutely, certainly, without a doubt, you will get the updated story no later than 8:30.

Were I editing your post, I would have deleted the third comma. If I were one of your students, would I get a star?

IMO, the third comma gives the idea that the editor is reciting a standard litany of (usually false) promises; I'd leave it in just for that.

Agreed; I'd keep the third comma.

Schlemeil would be a better choice than schlimazel. The former is an unlucky person, the later a chronic incompetent. Can't imagine a schlimazel could gain employment at a major newspaper (seriously - I'm not being snide).

Wow, all newsrooms really are the same. How about this one: All the editors with offices are darting in and out of them like birds. You realize the A1 lineup isn't going to be ready for a loooong time and your writer is going to answer your first editor-issued question with "You want me to find that out NOW? I filed that six hours ago. When people were still awake."

I remember a Sunday night at a newspaper: I'm the slot editor for the A section. The editor in chief, the business editor and a business reporter have been running around the building for hours, looking frantic. For weeks we'd heard rumors about the paper's chain being bought. I asked if there's something I need to know for the sake of getting the paper out. Nope. Finally, after the first edition deadline, a copy editor I'd asked to keep an eye on things read on the website of a sister paper that we'd been bought. Still no confirmation or heads-up from my boss. Finally, minutes from the next edition's deadline, we got the story from our own staff to add to Page 1.

Wow, custom dissertation! Your incredibly well-written computer generated bot-post has me convinced. I'll sign up now!

Sorry, I don't always get to the spam comments in good time to delete them.

Speaking of deletion, you should do the same to mine since the spam-bot is gone now.

Thanks for the work here, John.


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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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