20 years! It seems like yesterday that the trials and tribulations and, yes, excitement and moments of elation, commenced as I became the first English language editor of Pattaya Mail – the first English language newspaper in Pattaya.
I had retired from my architectural practice in Oman, which I had started after taking early retirement from Yahya Costain, a multinational construction company in Oman of which I was a director and the general manager, and was struggling to complete a small apartment complex in Jomtien, taking any job I could to make a little money and ends meet; so was delighted to be interviewed for the job of English language editor of a new newspaper, the first English language one in Pattaya, of which I’d heard nothing at that time. Even more delighted to be accepted and put to work, however paltry the stipend was at that time.
As I was an engineer/architect, I was naturally a bit unsure at first of what I was expected to do, but with the help of a template and a few people who knew something about newspapers (including Dan Dorothy, the present editor who was then the sports writer, and eventually contributors Barrie Kenyon and Dolf Rkis) I set to. Peter Malhotra was away in Denmark at the time so I was “ridden” unmercifully by a previous partner, now thankfully departed, with whom I had many time-wasting arguments about spacing and other trivia with which he was obsessed.
We had a tiny staff in those days, a few Thai journalists whose work (mostly police reports) was translated by Peter’s younger cousin and had to be re-written by me with an attempt to introduce some humour; a temporary, on-loan graphic artist for the advertising, an English photographer and with one or two other contributors I tried, with the help of Adobe PageMaker, to put a then 18 page paper together.
I soon found I was not only editing, but including re-writing, subediting, devising headlines and subheads plus other columns, “laying out” the paper and preparing the photo ready copy in time for it to be taken to Bangkok to be couriered to and printed by Bangkok Post printers (no internet transfers for it in those days). By dint of about 3 hours sleep a night, we managed the first issue within two weeks and, except for a 3-week wait for the 2nd edition, never missed an issue since.
I must give full credit to Dan (the present editor), whose 4 pages of sports news I did not have to edit at all (he even guided me on the layout) and to Barrie Kenyon and Dolf Riks, whose interesting and humorous columns needed no editing, and the encouragement of Peter Malhotra the publisher, without all of whom I would not have managed … but it still took a 130 plus hour week slog, a bit difficult for someone approaching 60 who was also finishing building an apartment complex and managing it and trying to look after tenants!
I was actually forced to bring a pillow and roll up mattress to the office and spread it out under the desks in order to catch a few hours’ sleep when I could work no longer. Often I woke finding myself slumped over my keyboard.
There were times when I came close to despairing but Peter Malhotra returned from Europe after a few months and smoothed thinks out considerably, including taking the rod of the other, unsympathetic partner from my back. But other disasters happened.
We lost the graphic artist and I found myself doing his job myself with no previous experience of graphic drawing of that sort or of advertising copy writing. Eventually I was not only writing or re-writing a large proportion of the paper (however much I tried to fill it up with pictures), interviewing people of note, covering events, the dining out column (often the only good meal I ate all week) and also writing the agony column (initially letters-in were invented), doing the horoscope with the help of an almanac and some occult books (actually matched some people I was told), composing the crossword and even drawing the weekly cartoon.
The letter column, to start it off, was often written and answered by me, but fortunately contributions soon started coming in, including (I must admit) a good few justifiable complaints about the typos and other errors I had made. Even the editorial became my responsibility.
We did eventually get the help of an assistant for me, who could do a lot of the typing, important copy-reading and other drudge work and soon learned to help with the layout (notably Andy Gombaez), and one or two others who lightened the load, but then we changed to 24 pages … it seemed an impossibility at the time but we managed.
A lot of work and a lot of fun and Oh! How good it was to find we’d closed the paper in time; what a sense of achievement.
I just hope that I am not remembered with too much scorn for my errors and that the Pattaya Mail (and its sister paper the Chiang Mai Mail) will continue providing this very useful service for years to come.
P.S. I have been reminded of what I wrote 7 years ago on the 13th anniversary and, I hope no one will mind if I include it here, it is still valid:
Thirteen long years ago Pattaya Mail was born and, with the untiring efforts of its proprietor, Peter Malhotra and his team, it dragged its way up, kicking and screaming, from obscurity to become the award winning local newspaper it is today.
I had the privilege of assisting at the birth as its first news editor… hectic and fraught days (and nights), which, in memory, were some of the most interesting (in the Confucian sense) of my life.
Now with a competent and sometimes inspired team producing the paper and its sister, the Chiang Mai Mail every week, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Long may you continue, Pattaya Mail, as a source of good, unbiased local news.