thir­teen years on

The days of send­ing paper copy in a van from Pe­nang to PJ.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - MARY SCHNEIDER startwo@thes­tar.com.my

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.

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