thirteen years on
The days of sending paper copy in a van from Penang to PJ.
WHEN I first began this column 13 years ago, I would write my weekly article on a computer that operated on Windows 95. After finishing my piece, I would print it out on a dot matrix printer, stick it in an envelope, and then drop it off at The Star office in Penang, where it was stashed in a bag, along with all the other copy waiting to be sent to the head office in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
After I’d been writing for about a year, my editor suggested that I fax my copy over to the head office. Now, this change was supposed to be an improvement on the old manual delivery system, but I soon discovered that technology wasn’t without its drawbacks.
After printing out my weekly article, I would call my subeditor in Petaling Jaya and tell her I was about to send her a fax. She would then trudge down to the fax room, which was located one mile below The Star building and only accessible by abseiling down a sheer drop. Or at least that’s the impression I got from the sighs and grumbles this usually charming girl would make upon hearing my voice on the telephone.
Quite often, my sub-editor would call me to complain, in a somewhat anguished tone, that my article hadn’t completely materialised and could I resend the missing text. For some reason that was unknown to me, the poor girl wasn’t allowed to call me from the fax room and was forced to trudge all the way back to her desk to access a telephone.
I would apologise profusely for the inconvenience and give her time to get back to the fax room before resending the missing pages. Then I would wait by the telephone, just in case something had been lost in transmission again.
Sometimes, I would get impatient and telephone her, which was quite a rash thing to do when you consider that a telephone call between Penang and Petaling Jaya in those days would gobble up about half the money I earned from writing an article.
When I checked with my subeditor, she usually responded by telling me that she was busy typing out my article. Then she would say: “No news is good news. Don’t you know that?”
Now, I found this an odd statement coming from a newspaper employee. Surely, no news is bad news in such an industry?
Re-typing my column was another activity fraught with pitfalls, especially when a sub- editor was facing a tight deadline. For the most part, my subeditor did a wonderful job, but once in a while, a word that hadn’t been in my original text would appear in the final print version.
This unsatisfactory system went on for a while before my editor suggested that I begin sending my articles by this new communication technique called e-mail. My sub-editor and I both rejoiced. E-mail meant no more frustrating trips to the fax room and no more tedious retyping.
Of course, e-mail way back then wasn’t without its challenges, either. Sometimes my old dial-up connection refused to send my e-mail, and other times they just didn’t materialise over at The Star office in PJ, forcing my sub-editor to call me and ask with a slightly agitated edge to her voice why I hadn’t met my deadline.
Sub-editors are to be obeyed and appeased at all costs, because they have the power to mess with your words and make you look like a complete buffoon. Of course, they can still make you look less than competent, even when you’re following all the rules, simply by exercising their powers of censorship.
For example, take the word “bosoms”, a wonderful word that is as full and as round as that part of the female anatomy to which it is assigned.
However, I once made the mistake of writing about a woman who had ample bosoms, only to have it appear in print as “ample top”. Now, I ask you, how does the following sentence sound: “From the far end of the corridor came the sound of Miss Brown’s stilettos on marble floor, then her ‘ ample top’ appeared around the corner a fraction of a second before the rest of her voluptuous body.”
For the first and only time I complained, and my sub-editor at that time was relegated to the far-flung corners of the fax room for her overzealous editing. But I digress. This column is dedicated to all the sub-editors I’ve worked with over the years. As for the “ample bosoms” cock up, it’s all but forgotten.
If the same word that is used to describe a male bird doesn’t appear in the above sentence, they’ve been at it again.