Saturday, April 27, 2013

OMG, there's more of this?

Although he wasn't the legendary Bigfoot, Gil Spencer was
the second best legendary editor I worked under.

See earlier posts:
   In 1984 Gil Spencer came to the Daily News as editor, with Jim Willse as his managing editor. Spencer had that old-time newspaper aura about him, and was probably second only to Paul Sann among the editors I've worked under, although I only had one face-to-face encounter with him and when he came to the Bergen Record to give a talk many years later he didn't remember who I was. C'est la vie.
   As for that encounter, I was working in the features department under a department head named Guna Bite, pronounced not like Bite Me, but with an accent aigue over the e, so her name was pronounced Bitee. Guna was of Latvian descent, tall, with relatively short blond hair.
   I can't say precisely why, but Guna had come over from the news copy desk to be head of the features copy desk, which was a promotion, but the job came with a lot of pressure, and after about a year it was more pressure than Guna could bear. So she went to Spencer and asked to be removed from the department head position and he removed her all right; he fired her.
   She was pretty broken up over that, and a couple of days later I knocked on the door of Spencer's office, he said come in, and I asked him if instead of firing her he couldn't simply reassign her to her former position on the news desk. I don't know if I had anything to do with it but that's what happened. I never said anything to anyone about having saved her job.
   A few months later I was approached by one of the managers and asked if I'd like to work on the suburban news copy desk. I said I'd think about it. The next day I was working on the suburban news copy desk. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, there was a young lady on the suburban news copy desk who previously had a reputation as being, well, maybe a little loose is the way to put it, but then she was involved in a serious auto accident and became a diehard feminist. She also either had filed or was about to file a sexual harassment charge against the head of the suburban copy desk, and the solution was to transfer her to the features department which meant sending me to the suburban copy desk, so it already was a fait accomplis when I was asked if I'd consider it.
   Not that I'm complaining. I loved working on the suburban copy desk, and later the main news copy desk.
   I'm going to backtrack a bit now, and begrudgingly admit that I may have been wrong about Spencer's managing editor, Jim Willse, who was hired at about the same time.
   I wrote a previous blog entry about the following incident so I'll keep it short. The Daily News had a company Christmas party shortly after the tandem was hired and of course they attended, or at least Willse was there.
   The News had recently published one of those screaming tabloid headlines about a gay bar called the Mine Shaft which apparently was owned by a city official and was granted tax-free status. The headline went "How the city got shafted," that may not have been the exact wording but the word "shaft" was there.
   Now euphemisms have always been one of my favorite headline writing tools, but the word "shaft" is a euphemism for fucked, no two ways about it, and this was the Daily News, which, although times have changed, at the time considered its quintessential reader to be a housewife in Queens.
   So at the Christmas party I approached Willse and asked him if he didn't think there was something wrong with using "Shafted" in a page one headline, or any other headline for that matter.
   No, he said, he thought that was a very good headline.
   I immediately formed a negative opinion of Willse, who did go on to be the editor of the Newark Star-Ledger and the paper even won a Pulitzer Prize during his tenure. So I may have been wrong about Willse; as for the headline, it nevertheless sucked.
(to be continued)

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