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“NEWS-SUB ONE! WHO ARE YOU — AND WHERE THE F*** ARE YOU?” The terrifying voice roaring across the newsroom was directed at me, and there was nowhere to hide. The only advice I’d extracted from my surly veteran neighbor on my first copy-editing shift on a national newspaper was “cut from the end — and do it quickly”. The coalface grunts were numbers, not names, referred to only by computer log-ins, and nobody had bothered to define the word decimation for me. But that was why the irate editor was hunting me down — to give me a blistering (but, as I’d learn, not coruscating) re-education. “Decimate” can be controversial. It originates from executing one in ten mutinous Roman legionaries pour encourager les autres, so means to reduce by 10 percent. Its use to mean “drastically cut” was forbidden. If the error slipped past a sub-editor, their chief-sub would pick it up. If not, the Chief Revise Editor’s blue pencil would excise it on the final proof. Pedantry? Perhaps. But precision was sacrosanct, and the same fastidiousness was applied to facts, accuracy — and truth. I didn’t appreciate it then, but I was fortunate to begin in journalism when this process still existed, and the internet hadn’t yet — literally — decimated revenues. The Chief Revise Editor, deemed expensive and expendable, was an initial victim of the first wave of the web-revolution redundancies. Soon, interns were publishing unchecked copy on the website of a “paper of record” to cut costs and compete with news aggregators. …

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