Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted by shack at 4:42 PM
From Sydney, Australia.
Copyboys Are an Extinct Race
This article was first published in the Texas daily newspaper, The Hereford Brand, on April 28, 2001.
It's being republished here in 2011, because The Press building, in
Christchurch, New Zealand, badly damaged in the recent disastrous
earthquake, is one of many buildings ordered to be demolished.
of famous editors, politicians and businessmen began work as copyboys,
when that job was the first rung of a traditional ladder to success. My
own climb up the journalistic ladder led not to success, but to a small
weather station perched on the roof of The Press, a morning daily occupying a gaunt, fortress-like building in Christchurch, New Zealand.
16, and just out of school in 1935, at the end of the Great Depression,
I had scored a job there as a copyboy (wages one pound, then equivalent
to four U.S. dollars, a week). I dreamed of writing like my favorite
American authors, Don Marquis, Damon Runyon and Sinclair Lewis.
I worked from 6pm to 2am six days a week. Every midnight, I had to go on to the flat roof of the Press
building, then scale a rickety, sometimes frost-covered ladder,
flashlight in one gloved hand, pencil held between clenched teeth, to
check the temperature and the previous day's rainfall and hours of
particularly cold night, my predecessor had caused a stir by reporting
an above-zero temperature. "Are you sure that was the right reading?" he
was asked. "Sure I'm sure," he replied. "There was so much frost on the
thermometer that I couldn't read it at all, so I wiped it clean and
took it inside under a good light to make sure I got it right." |
those distant pre-war days, copyboys had to fill paste-pots and
inkwells, dole out fat 2B pencils, buy sandwiches and cigarettes for
reporters and other staff, hunt rats that infested many of the
barn-like, uncarpeted newspaper buildings around the world, and perform a
dozen other menial tasks.
Soon after The Press's
presses began producing the early edition, the copy boy had to get on
his bike and carry a huge armful of papers across Cathedral Square and
feed them into mail boxes at the General Post Office. They had to be
posted by 2am to catch the country trains. One night, in heavy rain, my
front wheel caught in the slippery tramline (streetcar track) and I went
sprawling (came a gutser was the then popular phrase I used in
describing the incident next day). Thirty-six rural readers must have
wondered why their papers, received by post, were liberally splashed
The Great U.S. Writers
website ... says that Damon Runyon (1884-1946), "the greatest
newspaperman of his age," may have been a copyboy, since he was only 15
when he began working for the Pueblo (Colorado) Evening Press. As
a cub reporter, he "developed a taste for fancy clothes, nightlife and
alcohol." Soon afterwards he was a full-fledged news reporter. When a
typographical slip rendered his name RUNYON instead of RANYON, he
decided to keep it that way.
He went on to write about everything. The Great U.S. Writers Web site, which (surprisingly) is in Yorkshire, England says his subjects were "baseball
games, boxing matches, murder trials, congressional hearings,
obituaries, victory marches, funeral processions, interviews, profiles,
editorial, humorous columns, and front page leads.
days you would find four Runyon items in one edition. W. R Hearst gave
his editors a unique instruction 'Run Runyon uncut.' He sold 76 stories
to American magazines between 1929 - 1945. Collections of these stories
sold in their millions in the USA and Britain. What's more, editions
were published in French, German and Spanish. Runyon enjoyed
international acclaim." There's a fascinating Story of Damon Runyon at the Denver Press Club. .
Being a copyboy at the age of 17 was the best job he ever had, U.S. novelist and Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene wrote in his nationally syndicated column one day last year.
"I was a copyboy at the Columbus Citizen-Journal,
a morning newspaper that now... is dead. The paste pots had to be
cleaned in the men's room -- in the days before computers in newspaper
offices, pieces of paper with headlines written on them had to be pasted
to pieces of paper on which news stories were typed. Paste pots --
ceramic coffee cups filled with thick white paste -- were used for this.
When they would get all gunked up, the copyboys would have to swab them
out with copy paper dipped in water. This seemed like a fine way to
earn a paycheck; it was actually sort of fun.
sandwich runs were for the entire news staff -- four times a day the
copyboy on duty was required to ask each reporter, copy editor and
photographer whether he or she wanted a sandwich, and then go out to
Paoletti's restaurant and fetch them. This, too, seemed at the time like
noble work, and as I recall the most popular sandwich among the C-J
staff was something called a Denver, the making of which necessitated
the copyboy standing around Paoletti's while eggs fried on a grill."
former copyboy is Dr Harris Sussman, of Boston, Massachusetts, "a
teacher of teachers, a trainer of facilitators, a recognized futurist
and a speaker who is often noted and quoted." He says: "On my 18th
birthday, October 26, 1962, I thought the world would end -- not just my
world, the whole world. I was working at The Washington Post in
Washington, D.C... I was a freshman in college, the first undergraduate
(I was told) to be a copyboy there. I would be there for only three
months, on a co-op job that was part of the schedule of my college, and
only because the father of one of my classmates was an editor in the
"As a copyboy, I was a
newsroom go-fer, I distributed mail to the reporters and editors, I went
on errands. Occasionally, I heard, a copyboy would be allowed to write
an obituary. On rotation with the other older copyboys, I had a shift in
the wireroom, a glass-enclosed box where teletype machines clicked out
news stories. It was noisy, with a dozen machines tapping away, and
every now and then a bell would ring at one of the machines, signaling a
story of special urgency. I tried to read them all at once, following
the lines of type as they emerged. Sometimes there would be a message,
signed 'tuvm,' which meant 'thank you very much.' I loved it."
cartoonist Pat Oliphant, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966, just two
years after leaving his native Australia, described his first job as a
copyboy in a 1998 speech at the U.S. Library of Congress, which was
exhibiting 60 original cartoons and sketchbooks spanning the artist's
American career and 30 years of world history.
in 1935," he said, "I went to work at a newspaper when I got out of
high school and started with total immersion on what I was supposed to
do with my life, which I had no idea about, actually, because I didn't
have any direction. I knew I could draw, I knew what I was interested
in, but I didn't know what I was gonna do with it.
"So I went to work as a copyboy for Rupert Murdoch's first newspaper, The Adelaide News, at a mere pittance, in 1953, late 1952. And then I moved across town after about three months to a newspaper called The Adelaide Advertiser,
which was the competition, and copy-boyed there for a while -- we
called it copyboy then, not editorial facilitating assistant or whatever
it's called now.
"I was intending to
become a journalist. I don't know why, but I liked to write and I liked
to draw. I couldn't see how you could make a living drawing, actually,
so I was gonna be a journalist.
decided there were too many journalists and so I went to work in the art
department of that newspaper; I think they must have despaired of me
actually becoming a journalist and from there I 'sprang-boarded,' if
that's the word, into the cartoonist slot when our then cartoonist left
to join the News. So I happened to be in the right spot at the right time."
too, used to work as copyboys, particularly during World War II. Never
known as copygirls, they answered the familiar yell of "COPY BOY!" with
unquestioning alacrity, which would shock today's politically correct
pundits who would have insisted on yelling "COPY PERSON!"
October, it was announced that Connie Godwin, long time press aide to
Senator Ted Stevens, would retire by the end of the year. Noting that
she had been on his Washington, D.C., staff for almost two decades,
Stevens praised Godwin during a surprise lunch in her honor, attended by
print and broadcast reporters from the Senate press galleries.
74, Godwin was the oldest active press secretary in the U.S. Senate.
"She's interesting to work with," Stevens said. "Connie pursues things
in her own way. She's a master at trivia concerning the State of Alaska
and always produces the right fact at the right time."
Godwin, a former editor of The Anchorage Times,
grew up in the newspaper business, where her father was a Hearst
managing editor. She began her own journalism career as a copyboy on the Washington Post
more than 50 years ago. "In that less politically correct era, you were
a copyboy to the editors, regardless of your sex," she noted.
copyboys had wealthy parents. In Australia, Tjerk Dusseldorp, son of
millionaire industrialist G.J. Dusseldorp, was a copyboy on the Sydney Morning Herald. He used to drive to work in his Mercedes convertible.
with the death of hot-metal printing, today's computerised newspapers
no longer employ copy boys. "No one is needed to run copy from reporters
to editors, from editors to the rim, etc.," says Barry Jensen, of the
marvelously-named Eccentric community newspaper, in Birmingham, Michigan.
do hire interns, but the union contract requires that anyone employed
in the editorial department receive union-scale wages. In the old days,
we'd hire an intern or two every summer for free. They didn't get paid,
but they got experience at a real newspaper and college credit (I did
that myself as a callow youth). The good ones would very quickly get
feature assignments, and would be invited back upon graduation. The bad
ones would spend the summer typing up obituaries and calendars."
Don Cooper, who edits The Hereford Brand
in Hereford, Texas, agrees that the copyboy's role was eliminated by
the newsroom computer, adding "After the demise of the copyboy, U.S.
papers started having 'newsroom clerks,' a job that also has died out."
FOOTNOTE: Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore once had a summertime job as a copyboy on the New York Times. He has been criticised for having described the position as that of a "newspaper trainee."
For those who want the latest update from Eric about the Treasure
Hunters he has discussed in previous columns, visit this story on his
Global Treasure Hunters set to Sail.
Click on Eric Shackle for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.