Who Are You Calling Quirky?

Here’s a thought that rings true top anyone who’s worked at a newspaper. “Newspaper copy desks attract—how should I say this?—a quirky bunch of people.”

So wrote columnist Margie Peterson of the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call in an ode to a copy editor who took what in the newsbiz is called “the buyout” — a compensation package designed to induce people to leave a paper that wants to downsize its staff.

There’s a lot of that going around these days, and Peterson was lamenting the loss of institutional memory that occurs when a paper loses a veteran fact-checker. As she writes:

“having (copy) editors who know that a crime in Bethlehem couldn’t have happened at the corner of Broad and Market because the streets never intersect is important to the paper’s credibility. Most copy editors toil in obscurity. We’re like air traffic controllers: The public has no cause to notice us unless we goof up.”

Thanks to the Poynter Institute for pointing to Peterson’s column. But this reporter has little time to lament the fate of copy editors. I have to climb the learning curve. Poynter columnist Steve Outing writes “the future of print journalism is … video!” noting that the UK Press Association is “undertaking a big project to help convert many regional newspaper journalists into video-journalists.”

That effort is being led by broadcast journalist turned university lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, who has created a web portal to teach print newshounds the tips and tricks of doing video.

In the U.S., broadcaster Michael Rosenblum is another advocate of one-person video journalism, although as far as I am aware, he has been working on showing current TV journalists how to work alone rather than in crews. I’ve blogged about Rosenblum a time or two if the topic interests you.

Meanwhile, I haven’t forgotten about checking to see whatever transpired with the Peninsula Newspapers ESOP I mentioned yesterday. But the keepers of those memories are some copy editors — and experience has taught me that when seeking to extract knowledge from these “quirky” folks, it’s wise to suck up first.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media