Monday, June 14, 2010


My entry into the newspaper business came with a question on a copy editing test at my college paper, The Campus, some 43 years ago.

The question: What is bfulc?

My answer: Those were the glasses Ben Franklin invented.

My exit from the newspaper business came with an email from the editor of a midsize newspaper: "Thank you very much for your interest in our page design/copy editing position. We had a flood of 80 applicants including many who were highly qualified and it was a very difficult choice, but we have filled the position."

That's it for me. Ten four, out the door. I used to tell kids if they could write a good headline, they could always get a job in this business. That advice is now as useless as this blog, although some copy editors might still learn something from my occasional entries.

My former newspaper, the Bergen Record, would like to consider me retired, but I'm not. I'm just beginning my second career, reinventing myself as it were, as an oral historian. It's an uphill climb, but I need the exercise.

When I started in the newspaper business, as a cub reporter at my college paper, there was a tradition when seniors graduated, or even if they didn't graduate but finally moved on to a real newspaper after six or seven years dodging classes in the school paper office, a little hole in the wall, capacity about eight with a couple of desks and a few typewriters and paper all over the place, look at this, a run-on sentence, tsk, tsk, I must be getting copyheimer's disease, but anyway, they got to write what was known as a "Thirty" column. I wrote one in my fifth year when I finally negotiated my way into a degree, trading all my "incompletes" for F's and emerging with a 2.1 grade point average, a smidgin above the requirement to graduate. I forget what I said in my Thirty column.

By the time I graduated I was already working full-time, at the New York Post, where I started as a copyboy in the summer of my freshman year.

In real businesses -- newspapers, after all, were never real businesses, still aren't, although they've come to think they are -- people get a gold watch after 25 years. In newspapers, whatever the number of years, they got something much more personal. The cartoonist would do a big drawing and everybody would sign it. When I was at the Daily News there was one fellow who up and went to Hollywood because an old friend of his was now a famous screenwriter and was going to help him get started. The staff held a party for him and the artist, I think it was my alltime favorite newspaper artist, Jerry Schlamp, did a big caricature of him lying in a king-size bed with a horse's head sticking out from under the sheets, two empty bottles of booze with three x's rising from the top of each, and a nurse wearing nothing but panties with a red cross on them and a bra and saying "Now about that screen test ..." I got to sign that along with everybody else, although I suppose if he were to look at that today, he wouldn't know who the heck I was.

That's what I aspired to in the newspaper business, but it never came to pass. I left the Post in the exodus that followed Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the paper, and went to the New York Daily News. Ten years later I left the Daily News in a mass downsizing and wound up at the Bergen Record. I left the Record twenty years later in a "restructuring," please step into my office, you're not being offered a job, goodbye, a few days later some of my copy desk colleagues took me and another laid off copy editor to a diner and that was it, no cartoon. They did get me some kind of Hallmark card and signed it, but that's not the same.

"Thirty," in the Pleistocene Era of Journalism, is what reporters would put at the end of their story so that the people working the linotype machines would know that it was finished.

Oh, and bfulc stood for bold face, upper lower case.