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Column: Coming to terms with journalism terms

I got to thinking the other day that journalism has some strange expressions. Using them in public might easily anger or confuse a casual listener.

Someone yells, "Where's the dummy?"

The person is not talking about anyone — even the editor.

My parents wouldn't allow us to call anyone a dummy. Obviously, the dated reference to a person incapable of speaking is offensive. In our adolescent context we meant some kid was stupid, of course, but we couldn't use that word either. And my mother, the daughter of a newsman, wasn't going to buy that I was using the term journalistically.

Dummy in the newspaper world means the diagram or layout of a page. The dummy—which is electronic these days—shows the placement of stories, headlines, artwork and advertisements. Lose the dummy and you've lost the roadmap for the day's edition.

"We have an Evel Knievel" is another expression, albeit a little dated.

This is a story that looks like it's going to jump from Page 1 ... but doesn't. (Remember the late motorcycle entertainer?) Asking readers to "turn to page A3" and then giving them nothing more is embarrassing.

"She's just a hack!"

Coming from the mouths of journalists, the word refers to a writer paid to write from the perspective of a client typically political but also for a business. Some former journalists do go to "the dark side," and that thought leads nicely into the next term.

Tom Clark

That would be printer's devil — someone learning to run the press. While the term's origin is a bit clouded, the general understanding is that while a press operator's hands inevitably get dirty, an apprentice's hands become seriously stained black by the ink used in printing. The color black was once associated with the "black arts." Thus, a press apprentice is a printer's devil.

If there ever were a printer's devil who wasn't a demon, it was Tom Clark. The Hudson man died Feb. 1 at age 94. His long career in printing included 42 years with RiverTown Multimedia's Hudson Star-Observer.

He started straight out of high school and apparently enjoyed being a printer's devil so much that after a stint in the Navy he returned to the press full time. Former Editor Doug Stohlberg said Clark was dedicated, could run all the presses and work the darkroom, too.

In retirement, he became active with the YMCA and as an avid bicyclist could be found on the Hudson streets. He didn't do much talking, but for 47 years sang in a church choir.

So I hope people understand when those of us in the newspaper business say with affection, "He was a devil, too."

Journalism indeed has some unusual expressions, but also some pretty great people.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson is news director with RiverTown Multimedia. 

(651) 301-7870
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