Testy Copy Editors

Copy editor dies; wrote heds, ate lunch
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Author:  J Kaufman [ Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Copy editor dies; wrote heds, ate lunch

The secret of successful wordsmithery? Pickled eggs.

Editor who helped make sense of Three Mile Island passes away

Back when the front page was the primary news vessel, one of the most prized newsroom skills was the ability to create a headline for a story that was only one column wide.

It requires a clever wordsmith to boil down an urgent, complicated story and convey its essence in a handful of words. It's often done with one eye on a clock ticking toward deadline.

At The Patriot-News, the job many times fell to Lou Gable, a longtime copy editor who died last week at 71. Gable, who was retired, died of natural causes at his Lower Paxton Township home.

"He had an amazing touch. He made those one-column headlines sing," said Skip Wachter, a Patriot-News editor who worked closely with Gable for many years.

As a copy editor, Gable's job also involved policing for spelling and grammatical errors and making sure stories read smoothly, with no "holes" in terms of information or logic. He was an authority on newspaper "style," which refers to consistency in words applied to things like official names and titles.

Gable once told a colleague his biggest professional challenge occurred during the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island – one of the most intense and frantic news events in the region's history.

"He said that the stories coming in to the desk all had conflicting facts. He talked about how the story kept developing, so information would be quickly outdated. But what really made it difficult was that the sources didn't all agree on the facts. So it was tough to figure out what to print," recalled Craig Hunt, a veteran member of the technical staff for The Patriot-News and PennLive.

Wachter said, "We always wanted his eyes on our most difficult, complicated front-page stories because we knew he was going to catch any trouble spots we missed, raise red flags on others and he was always going to tell us how to improve a story."

Gable did two stints with The Patriot-News, with the first one beginning about 35 years ago.

During the first, he was responsible for selecting the stories for the front page and laying out the page.

In the mid-1990s, he left for a while to work for the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

Bob Vucic began his career at The Patriot-News working under Gable. He rose to the position of managing editor in charge of design.

One day Vucic was on a ladder removing vines from his home and looked down to see Gable, who stopped by to ask about returning to the paper.

"I said 'Absolutely,' " Vucic recalled.

Vucic said Gable, like all good copy editors, was a "creature of habit." A daily habit involved a brown bagged lunch including a sandwich and pickled egg.

Another trait of Gable's, also essential to good copy editing, was being exacting to the point of being "a pain in the butt," Vucic said.

While sometimes annoying, it was an essential trait in a job where success – an error-free newspaper – easily is taken for granted, Vucic said.

"You never notice when a copy editor is doing their job. You only notice when they don't," said Vucic, who is retired from The Patriot-News. "Lou was one of those who made the product better."

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