If it has my name on it, does that mean I wrote it?

As I was sifting through some old papers the other day (a habit I encourage for my fellow pack rats after being an assistant to the almost-at-the-two-year-mark process of going through my grandmother’s collection of notebooks, photographs, and sundry yellowing items in her house, as well as a helping hand in the move-your-advisor-from-one-office-to-two-new-offices project that accompanies any incidentals associated with university bureaucracy), I came across this article about Payam Akhavan that I apparently wrote for The McGill Daily published on 27 September 2004.

Allow me to set the scene for this bought of the publication bug: In the fall of 2004, I was settling into my first year – or, rather, my first month – of life at McGill University in Montreal after spending a year in a Harry Potter-esque castle in England. In what may have been a misguided effort to ingratiate myself with the cool kids on campus, to follow the wise leadership of my “alt frosh” (alternative orientation) mentors, and hone my writing skills, I set out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to join the legions of news writers who had gone before at The McGill Daily (which is not published daily, but that story will have to wait).

After enjoying a series of strong warnings about deadlines, learning the finer points of phone tapping (pro tip: only one side of the conversation has to know that it’s happening, and journalist-with-telephone luckily counts as a side), and dressing up appropriately (I am pretty sure I found a beret for the occasion), I headed off to a room in the Leacock Building for what was to be the first of many hard-hitting news reports.

The thing is, the article that I wrote – which has been blessedly lost to the ages what with its typos and un-newsworthiness – is not the article that ran in The McGill Daily. To be sure, the article in question is certainly news that’s interesting, to the point, and largely factual, with one exception: it lists my name just below the title as the author.

While I admit that I must have collected the quotes that are in the article, the rest of the words were changed so drastically from my original submission that I hesitate to even be credited with the inspiration for the article. When I first submitted my piece, the news editor sat with me for a bit in an effort to show me how to improve the newsy-ness for next time, but eventually I realized I was a hindrance to the process of editing, revising, and publishing the paper for later that day, so I let myself out of the office for what turned out to be the second-to-last time. (The last time was after I submitted a series of cartoons about my adventures working at the Tim Hortons on campus, another story for another day.)

This may seem like a strange time to bring up my short-lived and mainly deceitful career as a news writer. After all, this article was but a blip in the long-running annals of The McGill Daily, and I doubt that it is available anywhere but this blog.  Nor do I intend to denigrate the efforts of the very pressed-for-time editors and writers in 2004; to the contrary, I wish all of them well in their varied pursuits around the world.

Rather, I bring up this article as an example of the type of opportunities that present themselves in life, academia, and publishing. Much more recently, I expressed interest in submitting entries for a forthcoming encyclopedia. One thing let to another, and I am now involved in what I consider a worthwhile and interesting project. My one concern is with the contract (which I have already signed and submitted). It reads, in part, that the Publisher retains the right to edit or otherwise change the Contributor’s Entry, and that the copyright on the completed Entry remains with the Publisher.

Why would I sign and submit a contract when the wording causes me a few qualms? First of all, I’m one of those international graduate students in the humanities, so I’m used to taking lots o’ guff. Secondly, I’d rather write The Entries than not. Thirdly, I have some of that good old fashioned faith in humanity that no one will change my words so drastically as to make them false or otherwise incriminating.

Although I suppose it remains to be seen if I have placed my trust in the *write* editors. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

If not, at least I have this handy little blog to use as a platform for the words I want to say.

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One Response to If it has my name on it, does that mean I wrote it?

  1. Nicole says:

    From talking to my professors, Encyclopedias are notorious for changing The Entries to the point that The Entries are actually incorrect, misleading, false and, frequently, all of the above. Apparently, encyclopedia editors care very little for fact, but are very concerned with space!

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