Working 3 to 11  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December/January 2006

Working 3 to 11   

What a way to make a living. But what do you do during the daytime?

By Rachael Jackson
Jackson is a former AJR editorial assistant.     


A quiet but critical force in the newsroom, copy editors often clock bizarre hours. Beyond sleeping in, some of these detail-oriented folks lead different lives during the day, volunteering, working other jobs and finding ways to amuse themselves before they punch in in the afternoon. AJR asked copy editors to shed some light on their a.m. alter egos:

Oneita Jackson, Detroit Free Press. Jackson can't stand to read anything when she's not at work not even grocery store signs, she jokes so the copy editor busies herself by using her hands. She knits. A lot. Jackson's specialty is long, funky scarves. She started knitting with a group of women when she moved to Detroit from Washington, D.C., in 2001. Since then she says she's made more than 100 scarves, which she sells for an average of $100 a pop. A few up-and-coming musicians, such as Joss Stone and Van Hunt, are sporting her wares. Knitting allows her to indulge her creative sense of style. "A lot of my scarves are one of a kind," says Jackson, whose Web site, oneitajackson.com, features her work.

Brian Throckmorton, Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader. It might seem as if copy editors work late enough, but Brian Throckmorton, the Herald-Leader's copy chief, has found that when he ends his shift at 12:30 a.m. he can help give comfort to the ailing at a local hospice. "An eleventh-hour volunteer sits with a hospice patient whose death is likely to come within 24 hours," he explains. "The hope is that the patient will not die alone; some of the patients have no family or have exhausted families." Throckmorton says his newspaper schedule fits perfectly with the hospice work. "It's a plus that you're wide-awake at midnight."

John Fey, Omaha World-Herald. Fey edits sports copy, but during baseball season he grabs his mask and shin guards to ump youth games. For the past 20 years he's stood behind the plate off and on, sometimes calling balls and strikes until his 4:30 p.m. Saturday shift. The self-confessed "sports nut" says his second job pays decently, "but I don't do it for the money. When the kids are having fun and the parents are having fun, I'm having fun."

Eileen Sisk, Nashville's Tennessean. Her workday doesn't start until 3:45 p.m., so in her off hours Sisk is an artist, a dancer and an author. She studied art in college and still sells her paintings and makes pottery to give as gifts. She's also a country dancer and author of "Honky-Tonks: Guide to Country Dancin' and Romancin'." The book, which she wrote while on a leave of absence from the Washington Post in 1995, tells beginners how to ride a mechanical bull and how to practice good manners on the dance floor. Sisk also has written a novel and is working on an unauthorized biography of country singer Buck Owens. To maximize her days, Sisk goes to sleep immediately after her shift ends after midnight. "The thing about copyediting is it's such drudgery," she says. "I just want to feel like I have a life. I believe in being very productive every waking minute."

Judith Shapleigh, U.S. News & World Report. Shapleigh's expertise might lie in doctoring ailing copy, not attending to sick patients, but this copy editor spends her Tuesdays one of her days off volunteering at a Virginia hospital. Shapleigh delivers flowers and mail to the bedridden and transports specimens, records and even patients all over the hospital. "We really get a lot of exercise," she says of the group of volunteers she works with. "We basically are the legs of the hospital." But even in her off time, Shapleigh can't stray too far from the written word. She also writes for the volunteer newsletter. "It seems everywhere you go, there is some publication that needs volunteers," she says.

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