Jefferson Davis’ gravestone epitaph says: An American Soldier and Defender of the Constitution.
My second editor’s epitaph will say: A Tenacious News Soldier and Defender of the Associated Press Stylebook. She also will be buried with her collection of red pens.
Kathy edited and assigned stories for the daily newspaper where I worked after college. Kathy is warm, compassionate, generous, funny, and loyal. To hide these qualities, she keeps a stern mask in her drawer. She needed that mask because when she asked, when she pleasantly offered an assignment, reporters would scatter to the hall, ready to pounce, like someone found a donut on the floor.
A typical day:
Kathy sprints out of her office. Never walks. Never shuffles Always sprinting here and there. She says, with a smile, Not much going on today. Who’d like to do a weather story? Three inches of snow. Could be icy!
Out come the newsroom characters (inspired by real life and Overheard in a Newsroom, which gets most of the credit).
The liar. Sorry. I’m busy scooping the competition.
The smart aleck. Notice how editors assign stories they’d never write themselves?
The distractor: Does anyone want these pizza crusts from last night? At least three of you want them and just aren’t saying it.
The subject changer. Did anybody take a call this morning about a monkey riding a border collie?
The obituary writer: Sorry, but God is my assignment editor.
The save comes from the new reporter, who’s been on the phone with an elderly women who didn’t get her paper. New person was just saying I’m so, so sorry. I’ll let the circulation director know, and ma’am, I’ll deliver a paper to you myself. You’ll have it within the hour! The new person heard every word of the weather-story plight. Kathy is ready to get the stern mask, mumbling something about these people marinating in stupidity. The new reporter jumps up. Says I’ll do it! I’ll do it! Plus I’ll have an update on the road construction budget and a really touching package about grandparents raising grandchildren.
Kathy is happy. And sometimes her happiness meant fewer returned stories, covered in red, with a note on top: Need revised version in 20 minutes. Infuriating? Sometimes. But those red marks usually improved the story. God, we hated to admit that.
During those seven years at the newspaper, Kathy made me a better writer with her suggestions and twenty-minute rewrites.
Thanks, Kathy, for the red pen. And your friendship.