Starting in the mid-1990s, I moved out of the deadly, dangerous world of sports writing and into the mind-numbing world of copy editing. For those who don’t know what a copy editor is — or was back when newspapers had money — they are the folks who comb through stories with a fine-toothed comb for errors, debate tone and structure with reporters and other editors, write headlines, sit too still and eat horrible processed and fast foods until they die from high blood pressure and diabetes.
Of course, times have changed, and the full-time staffs at newspapers have dwindled to a very overworked few, who are left with about 60 seconds to solve every problem with a story before they move on to the next one.
But in those old days, I got to really immerse myself in stories — local stories on county commission meetings and new roads, state stories on the latest unneeded measure from the Georgia General Assembly and national and international stories off the “wires.”
There were so many stories that came in over the wires that the general public never saw because they didn’t make the cut — not in a CNN “we only report 1-2 stories a day” beating-a-dead-horse kind of way but more in a “we only have room for 38 non-local stories” kind of way. So we had to read an awful lot of stories whether they made it or not.
Over the years, I noticed a few reappearing themes in these stories that made them even more tedious to read.
For instance, it became hard to get excited about “medical breakthroughs.” You cannot imagine how many times I read about a discovery that had us on the brink of a cure for cancer, diabetes or chronic halitosis. The next step was always human trials. The step after that, I’m not sure because we never heard from them again. I can only assume the trials failed or that the pharmaceutical companies knocked off the scientists out of fear that curing diseases could seriously cut into their bottom line — somewhere around a few billion in yearly profits. Scientists might as well focus on a real breakthrough — like making Whoppers (the candy not the burger) a health food.
Another regular theme on the wires was the latest breakthrough or breakdown in the Mideast peace process. I don’t know what this “process” is, but it’s been going on for hundreds of years, and — spoiler alert — it’s going to go on for hundreds more. We barely maintain a fragile peace in Northern Ireland between Christians and other Christians. You think we’re going to be able to mix various religions in one sandy melting pot and everyone hug it out? Nope. Ain’t happening. Although, if we ever have miracle discoveries in energy like manageable fusion and get ourselves completely off of oil, you’ll be surprised how little interest the U.S. suddenly has in Mideast peace.
Then there were the business stories based on forecasts and projections. We were projected to have decades of surpluses when George W. Bush was elected. Those surpluses lasted about 10 minutes, and we went right back into deficits and more debt — not as bad as today but pretty bad.
And there were always stories about folks worrying when a recession would hit. I didn’t agree with Ronald Reagan a lot beyond Bonzo needing a bedtime. But I did agree with his definition of a recession and a depression:
‘Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”
Well, that last political zinger wasn’t very nice, but those first two sentences are accurate in that economics is all relative. Some folks can handle a recession just fine, such as banks that get bailed out on the backs of regular Americans.
Fortunately, my days of copy editing are over. But I’m mighty thankful for those few folks still doing that thankless job in ever-toughening circumstances. You should be thankful for them, too, and for all real journalists. If you don’t know what a real journalist is, you might need to cut off CNN, Fox and MSNBC, especially in prime time, and stay off AM radio. That might help.
Get more from Chris Johnson at KudzuKid.com.