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Newspapering in a previous century

If you enjoyed watching reporters and copy editors get into fights, newsrooms at evening papers were the place to be once upon a time.

At morning newspapers, many of the reporters have already gone home by the time the copy desk actually takes a look at stories turned in earlier in the day. But at evening papers, just about everyone was in the newsroom as the deadlines approached.

Long ago, I worked on the copy desk at a p.m. paper that has since folded.

One day, a reporter covering a high-profile murder trial turned in a story in which he quoted a witness saying something like “He told me he was going to kill that mother.”

That last word was not being used in the parental sense. And the judge or defense counsel probably threw a flag on the play.

But the reporter wanted to capture the flavor of how it was actually uttered in court. So he opted for a phonetic version of the quote. And when the story, having sailed through the useless city desk, arrived at the copy desk, that passage read “He told me he was going to kill that mutah.”

Immediately one of my copy desk colleagues suggested that it ought to be “mutha.” But the reporter stood his ground, stupidly insisting that it remain “mutah.”

For a moment, it appeared that they were going to come to blows. But as I recall, it was the managing editor who ruled in favor of “mutha.”

He could have saved his breath. When it came out of the composing room, it showed up as “mutah.” And that's how it appeared in the first edition.

For quite some time after that, certain staffers at the El Paso Herald-Post took delight in finding occasions to feign umbrage and call one another a “mutah.”   

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About this blog

Features writer Paul Turner is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review in the Features department. He writes "The Slice" column, which appears six times a week and produces general features stories for the Today section.

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