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The copy desk at The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote -30- last week.* Though various newsroom functions continue, under the opaque titles now favored in the business, there is no longer a copy desk staffed by copy editors at The Enquirer.

It was there in 1980 that I got my start in the business. On the strength of a master’s degree in English, six summers’ experience in high school and college as the Johannes factotum of the weekly Flemingsburg Gazette in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, and a three-week tryout on The Enquirer’s copy desk, they gave me a job.

The slotman was Bill Trutner, who had taught English before succumbing to journalism, a quiet, calm presence on the desk who was sympathetic and encouraging. Bob Johnson, impatient of nonsense and prone to pungent country expressions, was news editor.

On the desk proper, there were veterans like Jack “I wanted to be a miner but I didn’t have the Latin” Cannon. Phil Fisher, who remained at his post to the bitter end, and from whom I learned a great deal, had arrived a year before me. And the fellowship of the rim boasted a couple of other newcomers, the banjo-wielding John Bryan and Jan Cordero, later Jan Leach, later editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, now professing journalism at Kent State. It was a merry band.

Though we had esprit de corps, we were, as copy editors, still second-class journalists in the taxonomy of the time. And to be sure, even when it was flush, Gannett never put a premium on editing. The New York Times, after my tryout in 1986, advised me to “get a job at a newspaper that takes editing seriously and come and see us in two years.”**

So it is not a surprise that Gannett today would be eliminating copy desks, centralizing some functions in “hubs” remote from the city of publication, and dissolving such editing as remains in a multitude of other functions. I understand the importance of online journalism and social media to the business. As Arunah S. Abell showed when he founded a penny paper in Baltimore in 1837, you have to put the stuff out where people will read it.

But the cheerleading over the New Order by Carolyn Washburn, Gannett’s satrap in Cincinnati,*** masks the reality of what is being sacrificed. It is not just the loss of copy editors’ attention to niceties of spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage, and house style that made the published prose look reasonably polished and professional. It is the loss of people whose specific task was to raise awkward questions. Is this clear? Is this right? Is this plagiarized? Is this libelous? Is this a story? Is this true?

Even in the palmy days there was never enough time to get everything right. Today the workload has increased, but the time available has not, and there are fewer shoulders for the burden.
None of this can be helped. It remains only to thank those editors who welcomed me into this obscure craft thirty-four years ago, those colleagues alongside whom I have worked these three decades since, and that hardy band who have just put down their green eyeshades in Cincinnati.

You have done the Lord’s work, anonymously and determinedly, for employers who never fully recognized your gifts, your accomplishments, your worth. Ave atque vale.

*In the news paper business -30- is a term of art. Once typed at the bottom of the last page to indicate the end of the text, it became a metaphor for the end of a career.

**I did the first half 

***Two years ago it was Ms. Washburn who made the fatuous suggestion of engaging an English teacher to go over the paper's increasingly shoddy copy. One can imagine what that copy will look like now.

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