Jennie Crabbe and Colleen Schrappen finished their last shifts on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch copy desk on May 1, signing off on Twitter and in an email to colleagues. Lee Enterprises announced in February that it was eliminating the copy desk and moving copy and design functions to Indiana.
Avis Meyer, a veteran of the copy desk recently wrote about the layoffs for GJR, noting that since Lee bought the Post-Dispatch in 2005, executives “have been sloughing off accomplished journalists, writers and copy editors, helter-skelter, like a pine tree shedding cones in a hurricane. And they’re still at it.”
Here are the notes Crabbe and Schrappen sent on their last day:
Pulling on a vital strand of journalistic fabric
Copy editors are not proofreaders. We are not fact-checkers or headline writers. And, despite the prevalence of decisions that seem to contradict this: We are not expendable.
We are journalists – as integral to any news organization as reporters, photographers and managing editors.
Eliminating the copy desk is like pulling at a strand on a sweater. It creates a hole that leaves the surrounding strands frayed and vulnerable. You can try to patch it, but the fabric has been weakened. The gape will be noticed.
Most copy desks punch above their weight, holding their own even through terrible losses. That may not be noticed, because when we do our job right, what we do is barely detectable.
But make no mistake, our thumbprints are on every story.
In every tightened sentence.
In every fixed first reference.
In every inviting headline.
In the captions, graphics and sidebars. The special sections. The front-page cohesion.
We cut through the clutter, alleviate confusion, do away with redundancies. We ensure language is inclusive, free of bias and respectful of differences. We do the math, look things up, get it right.
For our colleagues. For our readers. For our own peace of mind.
We apologize to reporters when we phone them in order to fix their mistakes. We get dismissed by editors when we ask them questions – which is, of course, our job.
We come in when we are sick, because there is no one to cover for us. We work nights and weekends and we miss events with our friends and families because, well, there is no one to cover for us. Ever.
We tear everything up, start over and stay late when Red Schoendienst dies. Or Phyllis Schlafly. George Bush. Muhammad Ali. Deadline-pushers, each of them, in every sense of the word.
When an email goes out thanking the staff for work well done, we are not mentioned by name. We are often not mentioned at all.
And that’s OK.
Because we also get to supply the Weatherbird’s quips. We write the headlines that sing. We make the saves that no one else will ever know about. We work with the funniest, smartest, most helpful people in the newsroom.
We throw Friday night fests, debate the latest changes to AP style and dissect the plots and protagonists that propagate the news cycle. We’re not shy about being a little off-color. Or a lot off-color. Ahem.
We are part of something big and important. What we do as copy editors matters. Journalism matters.
And in this terrible moment for the profession, I am still proud to call myself a journalist. The newsroom is my favorite place to be.
I love the news. I love being a copy editor. And I will always be grateful to have been a strand in that journalistic fabric.
Newsroom is a place for misfits
To my Post-Dispatch family:
I got to reflect a bit on my career three years ago when I was asked to speak at the retirement dinner at St. Louis U. for Avis Meyer. I wrote a little speech that I cheekily titled: “A Life in Newspapers, and Other Dumb Ideas.” A couple of you might have been there to hear it… Here’s a relevant (and updated) excerpt:
A newsroom is a place for misfits, and every one I’ve been in — or heard about — is the same. Smart, passionate — sometimes grating — individuals, butting heads, but all pulling for a common goal. Delivering the product to the driveway — or now, the screen — and getting the glorious chance to start fresh the next day and do it all again.
A front-row seat to history.
Sometimes that front-row seat puts you a little too close to the action. You see the worst of humanity, and it steals something from you.
Oklahoma City. Columbine. 9/11. Cookie Thornton. The Boston Marathon. Sandy Hook. Ferguson. Je Suis Paris.
And I’ve had to sit there, white-knuckled, watching some of the best people I’ve ever known get tapped on the shoulder and escorted from the building. (Not to mention all those buyouts… let’s just say that “farewell” cake stopped tasting good about two dozen cakes ago.)
But on the best days, you get to share in the joy of a colleague, of a family. Of a city. Of the world.
The turn of the millennium. The Missouri Miracle. The Mars rovers. Marriage for all.
11 division titles. 4 NL pennants. 2 world championships. The late lamented Greatest Show on Turf.
And two Pulitzer Prizes.
On the best days, you feel a part of something bigger, like you’ve touched — and told — the truth.
So, dumb idea or not, I’ve got no regrets. I’m just sorry I won’t be here to share in the great work that I know you’ll do for years to come.
Take care of each other.
Stay drastically independent.
And keep kicking ass.