Last night, I was talking with my friend and colleague Susan Karlin about how corporate the news business has become, leaving little room for eccentricity. Herewith, a tale of eccentricity told to me by Don Michel, my former boss at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
Scott Newhall was an heir to the Newhall family, which developed areas of southern California including, naturally, the town of Newhall. He was also a journalist who owned and edited the local newspaper, the Newhall Signal (now the Santa Clarita Valley Signal). And he had a wooden leg –– but you wouldn’t know it unless you knew him, since around the office he wore standard-length slacks like any other guy.
Like many editors, he kept a copy spike on his desk. A copy spike is an icepick-like skewer on a flat, heavy base. Reporters and copy boys (there were no copy girls) would stick stories onto the spike for the editor to read.
To get rid of unsuspecting visitors who bored or annoyed him, Newhall would calmly pick up the spike, upend it so that its sharp tip pointed downward, and stab it through his pant leg into his hidden wooden leg. The visitor would blanch as the editor would say something like “Yes? You were saying … ?” Newhall might even cross his stabbed leg over the other one.
They don’t make editors like that anymore.