Sunday, February 03, 2002

I was always a reluctant writer.

Writing an article, for me, was like a visit to the dentist. Best left till the last minute.

I had to be cajoled, coaxed and threatened on the pain of death by my editors to deliver.

If anything was worse than writing an article, it was interviewing an eminent personality. Which is why the number of people I interviewed in 10 years of journalism can be counted on my finger tips... something a regular reporter would notch up in a month or two of journalism.

There was another -- more important reason -- why I didn't do much writing. I was a sub-editor. The person who did all the dirty work, got all the abuses, and, often, very little credit. But I have no regrets. That's what I enjoyed doing most.

So, what does a sub-editor do, really? Technology and specialisation have considerably reduced the burden of the sub in the modern-day newspaper office. In fact, I wouldn't be suprised if, like the proof-reader, the sub-editor too is buried by technology.

In the good ole days, the sub-editor was a manual content management system. Sub-editors had to keep a hawk's eye on the wires, which were delivered through antiquated telex machines (you would know you were in a newspaper office by their distinctive clatter), co-ordinate with in-house reporters and outstation bureaus, oversee lay-out of the pages, edit copy, decide on importance of stories, and give the headlines.

I wasn't on the newsdesk -- who, I envied, had all the fun with breaking news. I was on the features desk -- the guys who handled the softer stories like human interest, profiles, entertainment, celebrities, etc.

That's why I rarely edited copies. I rewrote them. While the newsdesk put news as its top priority, for the features desk it was style that mattered.

Some of my best work were not those I wrote under my own byline -- in fact, I was always very diffident about my own articles. But those that got credited to other writers -- from whose original article not a single word would find its way to the published version.

Constraints of space meant that we didn't have the luxury of indulging the ramblings of our writers. 2000-word articles would be hacked to tight 800-word pieces. And I often crossed swords with writers, whose egos were bruised, sometimes justifiably, by my marauding pen.

My editor once called me a butcher. All my journalistic life, I wore it like a badge of honour.

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