What could be more fun than a Zoom happy hour after hitting deadline at the newspaper?

Ever heard of an 11 p.m. happy hour? Well, my copy desk friends and colleagues at The Dallas Morning News and I had one Tuesday night — a virtual happy hour via Zoom! And we had a blast!

Top row from left: Birthday girl Autumn Pattison with Leah Waters, Alma Lozoya, Tim Connolly, Adam Wilson. Second row: Cindy Bagwell, Michael Apuan, Bernie Diemer, Tatia Woldt. Third row: Me, Carol Taylor, Jessica Burgess Good, Nancy Visser. Bottom row: Andy Walter, Braulio Tellez.

It’s been a long, long time since the journalists of The News have all been together in the office at 1954 Commerce St. on the east side of downtown Dallas. That’s where my multiplatform copy editor colleagues and I (used to) work side by side, editing all the stories our reporters go after every day, and designing all the pages those stories appear on in the still-somehow-surviving print editions.

Unfortunately, like so much of the world, COVID-19 has kept us apart since March 2020. With only a few exceptions, we’ve worked remotely for almost 21 months. Fewer than a handful of us have been going into the office some days — my dear friend Allison almost every day — since the office opened in early June to those who felt comfortable returning. I was going in a couple of days a week for several months, but even I’ve worked almost entirely at home the past several weeks.

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing one another’s faces through the technological wonder of Zoom, for our occasional copy desk staff meetings and newsroom gatherings currently held about every other week, as well as training sessions. The desk also has a Zoom meeting every night starting about 30 minutes before deadline — we call it our “deadline free-for-all” — during which we proof page PDFs together, discuss headlines that need tweaking and suggest other changes as the time to “shove” the following morning’s edition approaches. On weeknights, that deadline for first edition is usually 10:40.

Because my shifts are usually noon to 8 p.m. (although I seldom finish by then), I miss out on those Zooms — except on Saturdays, when I work 1 to 9 p.m. and our first-edition deadline is much earlier, 9:10 p.m. We’ve found our Zoom sessions to be a great time of collaboration and camaraderie. In fact, the whole remote experience of doing our jobs — editing all of what you see on dallasnews.com and producing everything in the print editions — has gone more smoothly than we could ever have dreamed.

That, and COVID concerns, are why most of us feel like there’s no reason to rush back to the office. Management had set today (Dec. 1) as our date to return — with the thinking that we should all be in the office two or three days a week at least — but that’s been delayed because of the emergence of the omicron variant.

Carol, those flowers look marvelous!!

But back to our happy hour. Our resident party planner and designer/editor extraordinaire, Alma Lozoya, sent out an email invitation a couple of weeks ago, saying the festivities would commence after deadline last night. Not only was everyone invited to bring their beverage of choice, but it was also a chance to celebrate the 24th birthday of one of the newest members of our copy desk, Autumn Pattison, who came to us from the Boston Globe during the summer. We’ve had five people retire/leave the desk this year (one, Tatia Woldt, was at the happy hour and leaves this month), and Autumn has been a wonderful addition to our staff.

We had a rousing group of 16 at our first desk Zoom happy hour — full-timers, part-timers AND one of this year’s retirees, Nancy Visser — and had the greatest time sharing laughs with one another. Several of us decorated our screens using the Christmas lights filter, and one of our veteran members, Carol Taylor, had us all in stitches when she tried out several filters to disguise herself. My good friend Leah Waters also told Tim Connolly, our longest-tenured editor, that he should dress up like Santa for the holidays, because he has the perfect beard for it (see first photo above)! 🎅

Hmm … this Carol filter disguise was just a tad scary.

We sang Happy Birthday to Autumn, talked about horror movies, beer, possums, tarantulas, raccoons and so much more. The topics that come up when it’s late, you’ve just worked a long shift with multiple deadlines and you’re drinking, right? And thank God we didn’t talk about work!

But after all that fun, I know we’ll be having another happy hour soon! In Alma’s words to me in a text this afternoon: “I’ll see to it that we do!” 🙂

And my deepest thanks to Alma for these photos of our gathering — I had forgotten to get screen shots!

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