“Honestly, I’m so glad we got rid of jump heads.”
His statement landed almost unnoticed on the night department’s desk — a space forever dominated by the hum of constant chatter. Amid the chaos and confusion that constitute a copy shift, fellow copy editor Nick Schwartz had dropped the one style-related statement that could be construed as incontrovertible: that those tiny chunks of display text that trailed an article as it bounced from the front to page 6 — or wherever it landed — were, quite frankly, annoying as hell.
Still, in a fit of pique, I retorted, “Really? I love jump heads. They’re my favorite part of display text.”
Never mind the fact that I hadn’t written one in nearly a year, nor the fact that these smug little titles perched neatly above a four-inch jump were truly the bane of my existence — I wasn’t about to let this slight go unnoticed.
Nick replied: “No, they’re the worst. They serve no purpose, and there’s no reason for them to be there.”
Well, yeah — there’s no reason for them to be there. As he later stated so succinctly, they really have no role other than to take up our time and space for the ostensible purpose of adding a little bit of clarity — by providing a piece of information that the reader would have found out within the next three paragraphs anyway.
And yet, I can’t let go. You could probably chalk this up to a deep-seated sense of nostalgia, tossed in with a sprinkling of fear for the future. The seasons shift, the semester is ending, and change is in the air here at the night department, as applications for editor positions hang in the balance.
Back when I first started, I could spend my full two-hour shift puzzling over the same 15-inch story, staring at the dim PC monitor in the hopes that the 450 words would somehow materialize themselves into a perfect set of headline, subhead, jump head and photo caption. Jump heads, in particular, were a nightmare. I’d desperately hope that I’d be lucky enough to be assigned an article that stayed firmly in place on the page where it started — and when I wasn’t that lucky, I’d react by bugging everyone around me until they did it for me.
My ability to write display text stayed that way — a grab bag of luck and frantic pleas for help — until an older copy editor, replete with knowledge, leaned over and told me, “Just pull from a quote and say, ‘Community reacts.’ ” And with that, I could write a jump head.
And it continued like that — I amassed tips and tricks like a snowball turns into an avalanche, until my head was nothing but a jumble of AP Style and keyboard shortcuts.
But the funny thing about this job is that the more I learn, the more I understand how little I truly know.
Sure, you get faster, and you get more sure of yourself, and you learn the names of some of the City Council members so you don’t have to Google them over and over — but the sea of unknown things is vast and deep, and it parts for no one.
Now, I can read 19 articles in a night without breaking a sweat, while still seconding others’ display text and proofing flats. I know the exact locations from which to pull information for headlines and subheads, and I know the exact names for them as well (the lede and the nut graf, respectively). And I know that I will never need to write a jump head again, because they’re clunky and irrelevant and in no way compliant with in-house style.
But still, I sometimes think back to those first days at The Daily Californian, when everything was new and fresh and baffling.
You can put me in charge, you can teach me all the InDesign shortcuts in the world, and you can streamline processes until we’re all efficient as robots — just don’t diss my jump heads.