Near my desk a framed panel from an old Brenda Starr, Reporter strip shows a man depositing an unconscious woman on a sofa and saying, “I’ve got to get into something safe like editing.”
In 1980 The Cincinnati Enquirer took a chance on a lapsed graduate student with a few summers on a rural weekly newspaper in Kentucky in his past and gave me a seat on the copy desk. It was not just safe; it was home. It was home because there were my people—smart, literate, irreverent, and mordant. And it turned out to be the kind of work I was best fitted to do.
Looking to advance, I did a one-week tryout at The New York Times, which told me, “Get a job at a paper that takes editing seriously and call us again in two years.” I only did the first part: Andy Faith hired me at The Baltimore Sun.
I became head of the copy desk, and my masters indulged me in a zany whim to bring in the smartest people I could find. There was barely time to recruit them and explain to them what we were looking for in editing before they were lured away for positions elsewhere in the newsroom or hired by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and, particularly, The New York Expletive Times.
Like all editors, I have in my head a score of errors and oversights, and I run down that list as I lie awake on still winter nights. But for more than forty years, thirty-four of them at The Sun, above ninety-five percent of the time, any text that passed through my hands wound up cleaner and clearer than when I picked it up.
I had the satisfaction of working side by side with scores of reporters, photographers, and editors who took journalism seriously. We have done many good things together, and we have done a number of great ones.
But all good things come to an end, and bad ones too.
I have been approved for a buyout, and while you will hear from me elsewhere, this is my last post in these precincts.
You who have read these posts over the past fifteen years have seen nearly everything I know about writing, editing, and language—more than once. A few of you have actually paid to be able to read it. Our ghostly connection has been sustaining, and I am deeply grateful that you offered me your time.
But now the time demands an observance of journalistic conventions: