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  • Writer's pictureBy Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Blast from the past: Memories of the old newsroom

I worked with Arnold Moss at Today (one of the Philippines' major broadsheets before it was acquired by another company), where I was a section editor. Mr. Moss was our copy editor, whom we referred to as our own William Safire. Following is an article that perfectly captured the memories of Mr. Moss. Originally published in the Philippines' Business Mirror, this article is republished here with permission.

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Irreplaceable: Arnold Moss, newsroom’s top cop

By Lourdes Fernandez

The red, fine marker pens now lie untouched in his pencil case.

The dictionary, Thesaurus, style books, the books of idioms and the Zinger series sit in a corner, long freed from the constant thumbing-through of fingers racing to find allies for a brilliant mind and a sharp eye.

The trademark beret, half-concealing the handsome face but not the slight smile of a congenial man – he was a terror as grammar police but the kindest of souls – has long been retired, since the man was forced by nature to stop going out, as he once did, daily, on a punishing commute that included jostling through the MRT crowd.

The white sheets of story printouts, with his precious edits for young, stumbling journalists – ahh, there must have been hundreds of thousands of those sheets – have long faded. But the red marks of the perfectionist are, hopefully, embedded in the memory of all those he mentored so patiently, and sometimes, sent away with a scolding. A repeated error is forgiven the first time, but in subsequent instances, could merit a thump on one’s desk, or – I swear this is true – even a rare gentle pinch on the arm by an impatient teacher with a “puede ba tandaan mo iyan para di na maulit [please remember this rule so you don’t commit the same mistake].”

In the work-from-home pseudo newsroom that the pandemic made unavoidable and technology made possible, it is his presence that would have been missed the most, because it is irreplaceable.

Editors, reporters, photographers, layout artists, social media managers – all could be connected in a virtual network made necessary by Covid-19. But that network could never quite make up for the absence of an Arnold Moss, the old man with his multicolored pens and sandwich box quietly working in a corner desk, making sure we didn’t embarrass ourselves the next day when the paper hits the streets.

Mercifully, he was retired when this blight took over our lives, because Arnold would never conceive of correcting copy on a computer. He had always told us, and no one could argue with it, that printing out copy and going over it with his favorite red pen ensured nothing could escape a sharp eye unhindered by screen glare.

Their generation of editors were perfectionists to a fault, and they never apologized for that. In the TODAY newsroom, and before that, the Daily Globe, Arnold Moss held sway as the dreaded grammar police. One could argue with the editors or one’s peers, but never with this cop who made it his job 24/7 to keep the peace between subjects and predicates that frequently disagreed.

TODAY publisher Teddyboy Locsin installed Arnold Moss as THE newsroom’s top cop, working with his fellow Hong Kong media alumni Manny Benitez and editorial consultant Viswa Nathan. And then there was Guiller de Guzman of Philippines Free Press.

Sometimes, the newsroom cops themselves fought with each other on how to resolve disputes between Subject and Verb, or over spelling. The most memorable of such arguments, which nearly went out of control, was the afternoon Arnold and Manny argued over whether “yakuza” should be spelled with a capital “Y.”

Arnold, who routinely asks Manny to enter into the computer’s news folders his red corrections in the story printouts, told Manny one day, “oh, Manny, I think you forgot to enter my correction making ‘y’ in yakuza lower case.” Manny replied, “because that’s how it’s spelled. With a capital Y.” Arnold kept quiet. But the next day he showed Manny his Oxford dictionary and a photocopy of a New York Times article that spelled “yakuza” with lower case.

Manny gently shoved aside the dictionary and xerox material, muttering, “I’ve always spelled it like that for the last 20 years.” Then Arnold shot back, “well, you’ve been wrong for 20 years!” The two old men glared menacingly at each other, fists clenched at the side, and TODAY’s younger journalists held their breath.

Finally, the irrepressible Nonnie Pelayo stood up and said, “gentlemen, please restrain yourselves. We can’t afford to have anyone of you buried beneath the epitaph, ‘here he lies, killed over the capital Y’!”

And that ended the epic feud of the newsroom gods.

But Arnold never behaved like a god, even though he knew in his heart Teddyboy Locsin’s unwritten rule handed out to everyone: Arnold will always have the last say.

In fact, no one ever saw in Arnold’s discipline the mold of a tyrant. Once, when Arnold stumbled in the MRT platform and hit his face, requiring at least 10 days of absence, everyone in the newsroom so missed the man that when he returned to work, we all clapped and cheered heartily.

This good-looking “god” with the kindly mien, occasionally marked by a scowl over an unpardonable error, routinely shared with his newsroom companions: the healthy sandwiches prepared so lovingly by wife Cynthia or croissants he liked to buy on the way to work; a new brand of pen; and even old versions of his many reference books once new editions were printed. One time, he even shared his medicine with me, the first time I felt symptoms of vertigo on the eve of an overseas coverage. “Take Serc, and you’ll be fine.”

Hallelujah, I became so well with Serc, indeed, that I was even able to take a wild “desert safari” ride on a Toyota Land Cruiser in Dubai. Most of all, Arnold shared his editing wisdom. In the jungle of language, Arnold always led the way, wielding his pens like the sharpest machete so we all could have a clear trail.

Every one of the journalists who worked with him in the newsroom remembered at least one exchange between teacher and student, often on mistakes so routinely made and rarely caught even in the biggest, prestigious publications. “Barking UP, not barking AT the wrong tree.” It’s “on a par with” not “at par”. His eternal lament: the Revised Penal Code that immortalized “reckless imprudence resulting TO homicide.”

Up there, he might be insisting, even now, that the boss give him free rein to edit the Ten Commandments. Or the holy book. Who knows? But then, Arnold and Manny might be arguing even as I write, and I doubt that would sit well with the Lord. At least, neither the two friends and colleagues will be laid to rest with the epitaph of the “capital Y.”

Farewell, Arnold, our mentor and tormentor. You are irreplaceable. Thanks for everything.

This is Arnold’s obituary, as shared by his family:

VETERAN journalist and book editor Arnold B. Moss died in his sleep on Thursday, May 13, 2021. He was 92.

Moss, a product of the University of Santo Tomas, joined the Manila Chronicle even before graduation. He was also the chief copy editor of The Asia Magazine based in Hong Kong.

Upon his return to the Philippines, Moss was recruited to the Bureau of National and Foreign Information. He later joined the staff of Editorial Associates.

Moss was also the copy editor of Observer newspaper and later the Daily Globe.

When the newspaper Today was established in the 1990’s, Moss was recruited to be its copy editor. He later joined the Manila Times.

Moss is survived by his wife Cynthia, sons Jason and Nelson, and grandson Ethan.


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