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Can you outsource this? The brainy copy editor behind the headlines

With his bow tie and eagle eye, John McIntyre is the quintessential big-city newspaper detail man.

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Let’s pretend, for just one paragraph.

Imagine that Walter Burns, the tyrannical managing editor from the famous play, “The Front Page,” magically materializes in the real world. While here, he gets into one of his foaming rages and sentences John McIntyre to life in the purgatory of all newspapers, that graveyard for overused reporters, the copy desk. Mr. McIntyre accepts his fate willingly, gratefully, grinningly, happily: It is what he wanted.

Now, back to reality. Burns remains a deathless character in a fictional story about newspapering. McIntyre is alive and enjoying the game that H.L. Mencken once defined as “the life of kings” – or close to it: He’s on a big-city newspaper, lord of the copy desk at The Baltimore Sun.

In 2006, Mrs. McIntyre baked her husband a cake to mark his two decades running the staff that provides the ultimate screening of the newspaper’s content, the final edit before it hits the streets and doorsteps of Baltimore. With his colleagues, McIntyre ate his cake, and he’s had it, too.

“I can’t imagine anything I would have liked more,” he says. “I love editing. I love news. I love the collegiality of copy desk work.”

Has he truly found his calling?

“Those who do not edit do not understand the keen pleasure that comes from taking up a text and leaving it tighter, clearer, and more accurate. Working against deadline provides a structure and a stimulus. And it is far from widely understood how smart and funny copy editors are as a group.”


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