Monday, October 18, 2010


‘Spike’ Is Spiked in the Modern Newsroom

WORDmeister Note:
Washington Post columnist John Kelly struggles with a new newsroom computer system—“Methode”—that takes some of the blood out of journalism.

“I feel I should pause and mourn the passing of an old newspaper word. Now that Methode is here, stories are no longer ‘spiked.’

“To ‘spike’ a story is to eliminate it before it sees print. It has its origins in a physical act. If you look at old photos of newsrooms from the ’30s or ’40s, you will see eyeshade-wearing men, their sleeves held up with garters, sitting at long tables. Sticking up from those tables are metal spikes. A story that was insufficient for whatever reason would be smashed atop the spike, the paper perforated and pinioned like a butterfly or the head of a traitor.

“We long ago stopped using metal spikes, but the word persisted. In our old computer system, you could dispatch a story by clicking on a drop-down menu, highlighting the word ‘Spike’ and clicking enter. It was a bloodless, digital spiking, but I always got a kick out of knowing the word connected me to journalism’s past....

“Now, however, my drop-down menu doesn’t say ‘Spike.’ It says ‘Delete,’ just like on your computer.

“Spike has been spiked.”

—John Kelly, columnist, The Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2010 URL
(Thanks to alert WORDster Betty Medsger)

Editor’s Note: Kinder & gentler, or limper & duller?

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  1. When I was working at the Dallas Times Herald, we were in the transition period, from the old fashioned metal spikes to the OSHA-approved spikes with the plastic guard above the spike, which eliminated all the danger and satisfaction out of dispatching a piece of copy. No one used the OSHA spikes, of course, because they involve a modicum of physical dexterity – slipping the paper in between the spike and the guard and then pushing the paper down onto the spike. That took way too long – an extra second, perhaps.


  2. I remember playing darts with our copydesk spikes in a newsroom--I forget which--that had acoustic tile on the wall. And I still have a green eyeshade somewhere. WAIT! and on my desk is a typeset piece of lead—YLIAD--from the Gloucester Daily Times.

    Jeez, I'm such a dinosaur.

  3. I will add "like a butterfly or the head of a traitor" to my collection of "coordinate pairs I never expected to live to see."

    Ted: Why? I have a nice case of perforated traitorous butterfly heads. Doesn't everybody?

  4. It's kind of interesting to hear the story behind the term. I've never worked in a newsroom, but had heard the term "spiked" thrown around here and there in news context.

    It makes me wonder what other terms and ideas we've lost because of our new technology. Or, how about new things developed? Though, I'll admit I don't think it would be anywhere near as fun to delete as it would to spike.

  5. Long befoe the OSHA inspired "spikes," we who had to serve on the desk (which meant everybody at some time or another) took every metal "dart" and turned the top inward to prevent impalling. This occured after one of our desk editors did in fact lean back and impale his hand on one "spike" much in the same manner as the Romans crucified Jesus. It worked, but took a second or two longer. Still, it was one step forward for safety. I'm glad the word "spiked" continued as a verb. We have to have some legacy.