I was in London last week, and therefore had the opportunity to see one of my columns reprinted in the Herald Tribune. Now the New York Times does very little editing on my copy. I send it in around 5 PM, the editor on duty (Steve Pickering in this case) reads it, we go over a few points of confusion - if he doesn't understand something, it's a good bet readers won't either - negotiate a few cuts if necessary to fit the layout, and that's it. But the Herald Trib obviously feels that it can improve on things. So what I saw was a bit different from what I wrote.
Why would an editor change a writer's copy? Presumably either to improve it - say to make it read better (for example by replacing convoluted sentences with more direct statements) or, if space is a problem, to make it shorter.
So here's what happened. In the New York Times my piece ran under the headline "Pursuing happiness" (Steve's improvement on my version, "Pursuit of happiness"). Its first paragraph read:
The big winner at the Oscars was "American Beauty," a film based on the daring and original premise that material possessions don't bring happiness. Oh, well. Anyway, not all trite ideas are wrong. In fact, there is quite a lot of evidence indicating that, sure enough, money doesn't buy happiness -- or at least not so you'd notice.
In the Herald Trib it ran under the short, punchy headline "The wealthy, after all, are not the happy few"; the first paragraph read:
That material possessions don't guarantee happiness is a winning idea these days in Hollywood, of all places. Testimony was the big Oscar winner, "American Beauty", a movie suggesting that notion. Oh, well. But not all trite ideas are wrong. In fact, there is much evidence indicating that, sure enough, money doesn't buy happiness - or at least not so you would notice.
Thanks, guys. That was a big improvement.