You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

The feat goes on

The Baltimore Sun

On this date in 1980, I had a lunch/interview at the Cincinnati Club with Jim Schottelkotte, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s managing editor, and Denny Dressman, the assistant managing editor for news.

The Enquirer had vacancies on the copy desk and was looking to hire three editors. (Three! All at once! Today a newspaper hires a copy editor about as frequently as a new Dalai Lama is proclaimed.) And despite my lack of formidable credentials—a lapsed graduate student in English who had spent six summers on a rural weekly in eastern Kentucky—they were inclined to take a chance on me.

But a qualified chance: I was taken on for a three-week tryout to determine whether I had the nous. Things went reasonably well. The copy editors on the desk were, as is usually the case, smart and congenial, and I committed no major offenses.

The tryout ended, and a week later I got a telephone call offering me a full-time position. I have now been a working editor for thirty-eight years, thirty of them and change at The Baltimore Sun.

Managerial responsibilities came in time. I enjoyed hiring, training, and mentoring editors, and was even successful on some occasions. But the day-in, day-out work at the paragraph factory has been ever constant.

I take up a text, scrutinize it for errors. I root out as many cliches as I can, make the imprecise more exact, prune judiciously, recast maladroit constructions, enforce house style when reasonable, and try to leave what is OK the hell alone. I’m there to protect the writer and the publication from carelessness and embarrassment. Usually I succeed. Despite the occasional, and inevitable, oversight or blunder, for thirty-eight years I have left those texts better than I found them.

And the desk awaits again today.

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