Thursday, July 30, 2009

The joys of failure

It’s a pity that discussion in comments of the substance of my interview with On the Media has been sidetracked by Robert Knilands, who barged in to vent his spite and resentment about other editors.* But one of his remarks has been productive of thought:

Maybe someday it will dawn on you that John McIntyre is no longer on the copy desk, and that he walked out a failure, with his section a smoldering ruin. All his years of blathering, parsing words, wearing bow ties, and generally acting like a pompous ass were wasted.

Actually, though I am unemployed and looking for ways to do useful work again, I can’t share Mr. Knilands’s perception that I am a failure.

After all, I put in nearly thirty years of good work; though I didn’t catch every error or fix every shortcoming in the stories I edited, on the whole, the papers I worked on were better for my having been there.

Though the copy desk at The Baltimore Sun is drastically diminished, it still functions, and several of the editors I hired continue to work there in other positions, struggling heroically to move the operation into whatever new form it must take to survive.

Beyond that, several of the editors I hired have moved on to work at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Several of my students from Loyola College have also gone on to established positions in journalism. I have every reason to take pride in them.

This blog, the continuation of the one I started at The Sun, has had more than 12,000 visitors since May 1, and many of them have returned repeatedly.

Yes, it was a deep disappointment that I did not get to serve out my professional career at The Sun, with a voice in charting its new course and maintaining its standards, but on the day that I walked out of that newsroom, I did so with the affection and esteem of my colleagues. Call that failure if you will.

As for the bow ties and the pompous assery, that’s just for fun.

*Explanatory note for readers unacquainted with Mr. Knilands’s behavior: I have not, to my knowledge, ever met him, and he has not, to my knowledge, attended any of my workshops on editing. Though public information about him is sketchy, he appears to have worked for a number of newspapers in the Midwest. What is certain is that he has been formally banned from several journalistic discussion boards for his intemperate remarks. He is particularly abusive toward those who turned down his application for employment or who presumed to disagree with him or who are more prominently known in the business than he is. It is possible to entertain the opinion that he is not wired to code.


Jesse Sheidlower, the formidable lexicographer and Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is bringing out a new edition, the third (!), of The F Word, a revised and expanded treatment of one of English’s most popular words.

For an amuse-bouche, he is offering an F Word of the Day. Here is today’s.

If your scholarship in bad words has not been updated since Ashley Montagu’s The Anatomy of Swearing (1967), here is your chance to expand your learning.