Thursday, April 1, 2010

By the Byline

When I was a cadet journalist, I worked under Zainal Alam Kadir, who was then the entertainment editor of The Malay Mail.

He often told me that my strength was style - wanting to become a fiction writer, particularly comic books, I studied the styles of many writers - and that my weakness was that I was a lazy bastard.

I hated doing research. Background info was to me as appealing as dog vomit.

So there would be times, in those early days, when Alam would furnish some of my stories with more colourful and juicy facts, drawn from his decades-long experience in the business.

Being an egotistical young man, I asked him to share the byline with me, as it is no longer purely 'my story'.

"No," he said. "This is your story. Just like your other stories."

"But you added some stuff to it."

"That is my role as an editor. If everyone who added or modified the story in any way were to share the byline, then the byline itself would occupy a whole column. The writer. The editor. The subs, the graphic artists, etc."

The reasoning was simple. No matter what, the writers are first responsible for the stories. Taking accountability for that, means a lot. The editors are responsible for publishing the stories. Any lawsuits, and the editors are the first to take the stand.

Furthermore, editors usually have done everything the writers have. Meaning, none of them would be so petty and greedy and insecure to have their names alongside writers'.