Mariam scored a job as the editor of the Khmer Times – www.khmertimeskh.com – an English newspaper that started on-line about four months ago and morphed into a weekly print edition. She had booked a three week ticky-tour around Europe with her mother forever ago, but she needed somebody to cover off for her while she was gone. Oh, and could I start on Monday April 28, three days later?
What do I know about running a newspaper? Nothing. What do I know about Cambodian politics? Even less. Okay, but for five weeks I can handle anything or so – being my usual pretentious self – I thought.
By the second day I was ready to quit and the only reason I didn’t was because I don’t renege on my promises. I marked the 36 days in my diary, sort of like a count-down to Christmas. The first print edition came out five days after I started work and it was bedlam.
Except for one, the journalists were functionally illiterate. The first edition wasn’t finished until 23:30 on Thursday night and it had to be to the printer by midnight. Earlier in the week I’d thrown a hissy-fit and said we needed to hire copywriters as I wasn’t about to spend my waking hours translating the gibberish the cub-reporters handed in. That fell into place. But I still had to work weekends to co-ordinate with the copywriter to make sure the writers filed their pieces.
Once Mariam left on May 13th, Dr. Bitch took over and started to whip things into shape. We got more writers, a routine started to develop, the work culture evolved. I went into the office every morning at 08:30. Too much noise and too many people and too many distractions; writing an email was a challenge. Then I spent the afternoon writing articles and editorials from home.
In four weeks I worked 252.5 hours. I have corporate-whore friends who work 60 to 65 hours a week, but they are on 250K to 300K a year. That is a substantial salary difference, but this is the Kingdom.
On Monday May 26 I had a meeting with Mohan, the publisher. The first item on my agenda was “When Mariam returns, I’m gone. I won’t leave you in the lurch, but I want you to know well in advance.” I really enjoy working with Mohan and have learned a lot from him. We are both workaholics and control freaks, although compared with him, I’m in the junior league. We had a long off-the-record discussion and came to an agreement that I would stay on and report directly to him.
All of a sudden the burden was lifted. It ceased to be a “real” job. As long as I get the work done he doesn’t care where or when I do it. I can live with that. And now that Mariam is back, my responsibilities don’t include chasing people around to find out what they are working – or not working – on. I never did babysitting well. And I have even less tolerance for dumb.
I write the “Women with Clout” section – that features everyone from royalty to radicals – http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/1365/women-with-clout–dr–mu-sochua/ — to Vichika at the dump http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/1649/women-with-clout-lay-vichika/ – which is fun.
And I do human interest pieces. The Orphanage Business – http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/1659/the-orphanage-business/ – ran on the front page and made a number of NGOs rather unhappy with me. Ah yes, but I’ve always said you can judge a woman by the quality of her enemies.
This week it was drug mules – http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/1947/the-human-mule/ – for the feature and an editorial about Yoshe, a naive Australian woman who got mixed up with a Nigerian. She agreed to take a backpack of arts and crafts supplies to Australia where someone in the sister-store in Sydney would pick it up. Scam at 10 paces. There were 2.2 kg of heroin sewn into the straps of the backpack and she was sentenced to 23 years in prison last week. I had visited her a few times in October 2013 and taken notes so writing the piece was easy.
All of a sudden I’m having fun with it. So what happens next? Will the new arrangements work out? Mohan wants me to grow up to be the weekend editor. All will be revealed in subsequent blogs.