You don’t say it ain’t so: Baltimore Sun lays off copy editing maestro

John McIntyre in bow tie.

John McIntyre.

John McIntyre, a veteran copy editor whose blog, You Don’t Say, became a vital grammar and usage forum for journalists and journalism teachers, was determined to be less than vital to the Baltimore Sun yesterday and laid off—reportedly with a dozen fellow editors reportedly with 60 other newsroom employees.

“It’s superfluous to say that a veteran editor and teacher is available for work, but I am,” he tweeted this morning on Twitter, a platform he had labelled, just days earlier, the latest threat to the English language. “Now I’ll step back to make room for the offers.”

McIntyre was chief of the Sun’s copy desk. In his blog, he presides with humor and erudition over such tensions as verb tense, commas and apostrophes, though lately he has seemed increasingly occupied with the state of “our moribund newspapers.” An old-school drudge, he nonetheless embraces the new, engaging in constructive dialogue with blog commenters, maintaining accounts in Facebook and Twitter. He has promised to keep all that going now that his years at the Sun have set.

McIntyre mixed a large Manhattan yesterday evening to mark the end of almost 23 years at the newspaper, owned by the Tribune Company. He announced his departure early this morning in his final posting:

It was, as they say in theatrical circles, a good run. I had more than two decades of the company of some of the smartest and funniest people I have ever known, working for supportive editors of the paper, and in all that time we struggled day after day to make The Sun a formidable newspaper. We succeeded more often than we failed, and no man has been more fortunate in his colleagues than I have.

But when the curtain falls, you are supposed to get off the stage, and this is my final post at baltimoresun.com. I expect to continue blogging elsewhere, but you will no longer find me at my post here. In addition to colleagues who have been great fun, I have had the good fortune to collect a remarkable corps of loyal readers, and I salute you all with gratitude and affection. You have enriched my life.

Fellow Sun blogger Nancy Johnson, hired by McIntyre twice as an intern and once for the staff, describes him thus:

This is a man who wore a bow tie to the newsroom on a regular basis. Who scootered around the office delivering pronouncements and sometimes a big rubber chicken. Who had a plastic foot wedged between his desk and the wall, just in case you weren’t nervous enough when blindly entering his office.

This is a man who, as far as I can tell, was devoted especially to three things in life: his family, good Kentucky bourbon and making sure, every day, that The Sun’s readers were greeted with clear and concise stories, which answered their questions, addressed their concerns and fired up their minds about the world around them.

Reminiscences like these, and more on Facebook, inspired McIntyre to write, again on Twitter: “Not. Dead. Yet.”

The Tribune Company is in bankruptcy, with declining revenues, declining circulation, and billions in debt. But it may oversimplify the situation to blame the decline of Tribune newspapers on the economy or competition from the internet. In a mid-April interview with Bill Moyers, former Sun reporter David Simon noted that Tribune began disassembling its newsrooms in the mid-1990s, before the internet had become a threat. Simon took the Sun’s third buyout in 1995 and went on to become, most famously, creator of HBO’s “The Wire.” He charges that executives at Tribune, Times-Mirror and other industry giants killed the industry with gross mismanagement.

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