Friday, April 19, 2013

Another one bites the dust

   I arrived at work yesterday to find my managing editor outside having a cigarette. As I opened the door to enter the building's relatively small lobby -- somewhat proportionally re the size of the paper to the grand Art Deco lobby of the New York Daily News where I used to work -- he asked me if I'd heard the news, as if I even know how to open my company email from my home computer, heck, I've only been there two and a half years.
   No, I said. What news? I assumed immediately that the Turk -- as Norm Miller, a sportswriter at the Daily News many moons ago used to refer to the ax that fell on professional football squads at certain points in the pre-season; I imagine today the Turk would proverbially chop off Norm's proverbial head if he used that expression in a story since one doesn't want to give the impression anymore that Turkish people go around chopping off people's heads, that's not very politically correct, now, is it? Maybe the Taliban is visiting NFL training rooms these days. At any rate, just about the only news in the newsroom these days, other than another delay in going live with the new bells-and-whistles rich web site, is that somebody has been fired.
   "Jack's no longer here," the managing editor said. Jack K-----, the person to whom he referred, was the executive editor, which makes three executive editors who've come and gone since I was hired that seemingly short time ago. Well, not exactly come and gone, two came and three went, since the first one was within weeks of retiring when I was hired.
   There was a great deal of speculation in the newsroom yesterday but nothing concrete. I suppose if the publisher were listening, he would have picked up what Homeland Security calls a great deal of chatter. He did call a couple of my colleagues into his office to ask them what the mood of the newsroom was. He didn't call me in, but I'd have readily given him my opinion, which was that the executive editor was a nice guy, everybody liked him, but that he never quite got the chance to assert his authority. He tried a little too hard to be perceived as a "good guy" and to plug some of the newsroom's many holes; for instance he took cell phone pictures of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony across the street last year when no photographer was available, never mind that they were blurry and really lousy quality; he rewrote press releases and edited stories, but didn't edit them nearly as well as a copy editor might have edited them, if all the copy editors weren't so overworked and stressed out. And he loved to write weather stories.
   All of this got me to thinking about all the managing and executive editors -- mind you, I never quite understood the difference between the two, although I suppose in some table of organization there is one -- I've seen visited by the so-called Turk in the 46 or so years since I first sharpened two or three dozen No. 2 pencils a night, made coffee in an urn with flies on the bottom and was sent to buy cigarettes for Pete Hamill (two packs of Camels).
   There have been a lot, but none ever came close to the standard set by my first managing (executive?) editor, Paul Sann, whom I never had a conversation with -- he didn't interview me because I started at age 17 as a part-time copyboy on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift -- and I certainly wasn't recruited, but Paul Sann circled a headline on a galley proof and sent it to the sports editor, Ike Gellis, with the note "good headline," or maybe it was just "good head," or maybe even simply "good," and it was like somebody slapped a ball and chain to my ankle and wrapped the ball a few times around the base of the copy desk. Not that that was a bad thing, there were times in my alleged career that I loved being a copy editor, but the fact is that copy editors are the Rodney Dangerfields of the newspaper industry.
   In one of my earliest blog posts -- so early that it was in a roll your own iteration of the blog sprouting from one of my web sites and isn't included in this blog, so here's a link -- Aaron's early attempt at blogging -- I gave more of a description of the circumstances surrounding that circled headline, and I spoke of the friction between Sann and the Post's new owner, circa 1978, Rupert Murdoch, and I had a couple of the facts wrong, which I can thank Sann's son Howard for correcting. I didn't know it then, but I've worked under some good and some poor excuses for managing and executive editors but Sann set a standard that's been approached but never equaled.

(Wow, am I so old that I can remember when "more" was at the bottom of a page of copy? Excuse me while I catapult myself into the 21st century...)
(to be continued)

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