Testy Copy Editors

Wooden ships, iron men and pointy spikes
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Author:  J Kaufman [ Mon Jul 15, 2013 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Wooden ships, iron men and pointy spikes

Bill Mead, another veteran of UPI when it was a great wire service, stopped by yesterday and we reminisced about how different today’s newsrooms are from the UPI bureaus we knew. We both had worked in the Detroit bureau and remembered it as a plain room in the garage of the Detroit News building—the AP, being a newspaper cooperative partly owned by the News, had a nicer bureau near the paper’s newsroom. But UPI staffers always figured we were twice as good as the AP and we didn’t need as many people or perks.

What we fondly remembered were the sounds of journalism: We had about 10 people in one fairly small room (what office planners now call an open plan workspace). There were maybe 10 Teletype printers chattering away, phones ringing (as Michigan’s main bureau we got a lot of calls from stringers around the state), reporters pounding away at big black Underwood typewriters, lots of loud talking with plenty of profanity.

Bill also remembers lots of paper: “Instead of pushing SAVE on a computer keyboard you spiked the copy. The news desk had a big vertical spike, and busy reporters whammed copy on it all day long. Bob Ardren, who worked the night desk, used to bring his lunch in a brown bag and we occasionally spiked it, the best moment spiking one of his hard-boiled eggs. One frantic reporter in the AP bureau spiked a piece of copy so carelessly and hard that the spike went right through his hand.”[*]

The news made a lot of noise, too. Five bells from one of the Teletype machines meant a bulletin—somewhat important news. The purpose of the bells was to alert news editors at newspapers and broadcast stations that it was news worth looking at now. Ten bells meant a flash—very important news. On the afternoon of November 23, 1963, we first heard five bells (“Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas”) followed by ten bells (“KENNEDY SERIOUSLY WOUNDED PERHAPS SERIOUSLY PERHAPS FATALLY BY ASSASSINS BULLET”). Most older journalists remember exactly what they were doing that afternoon.
[Jack Limpert, About Editing and Writing]

[*] The trick to spiking copy on the first try: File the spike tip occasionally, and curl the paper before slamming it down. Everyone has stories, true or not, of some schmuck who spiked sandwiches or body parts.

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