John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Fifty years ago ...


As Elwood P. Dowd in the Senior Class production of Mary Chase's Harvey at Fleming County High School, May 8-9, 1969, with Toby Fried, right, as Vita Louise Simmons and Molly Rigdon, left, as Myrtle Mae Simmons.

Miss Lynda McKee, the director, said afterward, "John Early, you were better than Jimmy Stewart, because Jimmy Stewart played Jimmy Stewart and you played Elwood Dowd."

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Breaking into newspapering

In the spring of 1968, when I was a junior in high school. Lowell Denton, publisher of the weekly Flemingsburg Gazette in Fleming County, Kentucky, offered me a job for the summer.

His wife, Jean, who was editor, reporter, and columnist, liked to take the summers off, and Lowell, having spotted a letter to the editor I had written to the Times-Democrat, the other county weekly, decided that I had enough literacy to handle the job.

So that summer, for my first paying job ($1.25 an hour), I sat down at a table with a Remington standard typewriter and a stack of copy paper. My first task was to English the county correspondence. The Gazette engaged a group of older ladies in communities around the county to send in weekly social notes from their locales, and my task was to regularize the spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Though I began as an editor, I was also a reporter.

Sent to cover the fiscal court (the county council), I quickly learned not to begin taking notes when the Rev. Owsley Crain began speaking, but to hold off until he more nearly approached his point. At the Ewing Fair, I had to get the names of the winners of the Beautiful Baby contest. (One summer, Mr. Pierce Million, who provided the sound system, played a scratchy recording of "Born to Lose" as the mothers and babies approached the infield.) I interviewed the superintendent of schools at summer's end about plans for the new school year. I wrote profiles of local citizens, often having to ferret out information from the inarticulate

I learned early on to pay attention to the typesetters. It was Cecil Pugh, who operated the Linotype, who pointed out that internment for interment had gotten into an obituary. Later, Lowell acquired a typesetter that produced a punched tape allowing the typist to delete a line with a mistake and start over; when the tape was run through a dummy machine, it produced a galley of the corrected type. The typesetter was my cousin Marie Arrasmith, who was also the bookkeeper, and I paid close attention to her, because her store of local gossip was encyclopedic.

I wasn't all writing and editing. I collected the mail every morning, took classified ads and social notes over the phone, fetched colas and snacks from the gas station across the street, typed subscribers' addresses on stencils for the Addressograph, later in the offset era drove the pasted-up pages to the printer in the next county, drove the finished papers back, helped with the addressing and bundling, and swept the office on Friday afternoon.

Jean Denton wrote a column, "Jean's Jottin'," and in the summer it became "John's Jottin'," the main burden of which was to offer congratulations to local worthies. I was allowed a separate column of my own, "From the Wastebasket of John E. McIntyre," in which I wrote about things I had read and offered naive liberal political comments. (Lowell, remarking on my enthusiasm for Eugene McCarthy that summer, asked someone, "Is John Early still supporting that Communist?")

Jean was harder-shelled than Lowell, the kind of Republican once described as "rock-ribbed," a Nixon loyalist to the end, and beyond. We got along fine, because in spite of political differences we shared a taste for Ross Macdonald's murder mysteries and an admiration for Joan Didion's prose.

Lowell and Jean were ideal employers. They encouraged me to learnt the craft and indulged my youthful excesses. (The Gazette's circulation was around 3,000 a week. There is a good deal to be said for making your early mistakes in a place where not many people see them.)  The six summers in high school and college that I spent working for them were an invaluable education.

The Flemingsburg Gazette was, in fact, my journalism school. As an undergraduate at Michigan State, I was told I couldn't take a journalism course without first undergoing Introduction to Communication. I took it for one term. The text was a crudely photocopied set of vapid essays by the department chairman, and we had to watch video of two other department faculty members who evidently thought that their feeble badinage constituted dry donnish wit. At the end of the term I took all the course materials and dropped them down the incinerator shaft at East Akers Hall.

When in 1980, abandoning an uncompleted dissertation in English, I approached The Cincinnati Enquirer for an opening on the copy desk, I had enough grounding as an alumnus of The Flemingsburg Gazette to make headway there, and for all that has happened since I owe a profound debt of gratitude to Lowell and Jean Denton, who identified and encouraged promise.



Monday, January 21, 2019

I'll stand with government workers

My mother, Marian Early McIntyre, was the postmaster in Elizaville, Kentucky for twenty-four years, much of that time as a federal employee before the Postal Service was spun off.

She pretty much saw everyone in town every day and was quite accommodating to the patrons, even the difficult ones. We lived upstairs (it was a one-room post office), and she often opened up to hand out mail to people who had been unable to come by during regular hours. She was diligent, too; her accounts tallied exactly every month.

Of course she was a Democrat. (I've remarked elsewhere that the reason government workers are Democrats is that they are the people who believe that government works.) She and my father were Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy Democrats. I do, however, suspect (nothing was ever said aloud), that they may have voted for Senator John Sherman Cooper, of whom they always spoke with respect.

For her, as for many federal employees, the pay was modest, but the post offered health insurance for the family and a decent pension.

She saw her job as providing a necessary service to people, and she did it gladly. That is why I do not mutter or grumble when there is a long line at the post office. I know that the employees are trying to accommodate all the patrons, even the difficult ones, for modest pay and benefits.

And I think that that is the case for many, perhaps most, federal employees, working with little acclaim to provide the services we need or want. I'll stand with them, particularly the ones who find themselves in distressed circumstances because of an unnecessary government shutdown begun as a political stunt.

They deserve much better.