From kickass to badass

Suparna Pathak is a founding partner of Content Crankers. Apart from being one of the most revered names in the field of journalism, he is also a management expert and an academic: a polymath.

You were a kickass, now it’s time you turned badass.


Or was I a badass trying to metamorphose into kickass?


Between my “Eh!” and my son’s, lies the entire gamut of challenges that I face now.  Or probably that’s the crisis for my entire generation.

A few years back, about this time, I put my papers in. Was mauling this for a while. I have been a scribe with a reasonable level of success for more than three decades now. Had reached a stage wherein I could anticipate almost with 90 per cent accuracy the next sentence of the finance minister during his budget speech. So days were a drag without any challenge.

— Now that I am pushing 60 why don’t I try out something new!

— New?

A blast from a bunch of frazzled friends looking for that oasis of peace with pension post-sixties! But I still loved girls and my pegs. I didn’t have a pension and going forward I may not like my lack of comfort. And, trust me, this doesn’t sell in India. You are old; ergo you should retire.

Words were my life. I still wanted to bed words as it was orgasmic for me. So what the hell! They said it couldn’t be my walk! Why? Because of my age?  When Clooney married Amal they went gaga! But with Digvijay Singh’s affair? Well, we all know how we reacted. So past sixty, you are no longer a kickass. You are a frazzled fool!

I was confounded. Did a few words stand between a new life and me? Was it a challenge or a portent? Undeterred I plunged into darkness as it were. But as the Bible says, “And there was light.”

I had known him in his previous avatar. And then I met him on Facebook. How was I to know that here was a guy, years junior to me, having had his shot at life in all its hues, was actually looking out for a partner like me! And I plunged.

My learning? Let me share that with you.

As a journalist, I had climbed the ladder of hierarchy by rank. The first day at the Desk — that’s where news is polished up, rewritten to make it reader-friendly and crispy so that you stay riveted to the content, news placement by page is decided and headings given — I was lectured on how to treat the raw news with contempt. For a desk hand, it was the job of a butcher with no respect for the original writer’s skill! Well, that was a shock. I realised that most of the bylines I respected for the writing skill actually were the handiwork of a clutch of desk hands!

And I learned about the importance of spotting news points. A news point is actually the news and the rest of what goes into the news is the context or what is known as padding in the circuit. This is where a reporter’s skill merges with a desk hand.

When a reporter goes out in the field he has to ferret out the news point from a raft of other important points at the event! A good reporter is the one who is like a reliable sniffer dog who picks out that point which makes the headline. Well, and then there were others who were dumpsters – they just dumped whatever that transpired at an event leaving to the desk to sniff out the news point.

A word in passing though — this is not to say that there weren’t or aren’t reporters whose copy can safely be sent down to the press with a few corrections of typos. There are, and these are the guys who win major assignments and of course, are the stars. But it’s the ability of the desk that flags the quality and credibility of a newspaper. The selling point for any newspaper is the trust that the readers repose in it and the desk is the main driver of that.

Now, this sets my context to saying digital communication is more about communication where electronic/digital is just the technology that purveys the content and connects the content with the addressee just like the way traditional media outlets do.

My proposition is that unless the content is good no tech tweaking will sustain it. Let us go back to traditional media for reference. How many days, after reading a newspaper, do you remember a news from the inside pages? I would say many. And you would of course remember stories placed inside the page yet, subsequently, the development started hogging the headlines on Page 1?

Here we are talking about two things. Impact of an event and the import of a content.  For example, a story of rape may on the first day find its place inside. But then the implication takes up such proportions that it becomes more than a gruesome tale of a woman who became a victim of a person’s lust. It evolves into a major heinous reflection of social dynamics. We can say that the importance of the crime turns evolving as the plot thickens and its impact decides its importance.

On the other hand, an inside story touches your mind in such a way that on that day the top of your mind story is not the one from the front page but the one that was placed inside.

What I am saying here is that in newspapers, you don’t have recourse to SEO or Keywords. Yet you do the same thing as we do on digital platforms. In the traditional media what was intuitive is now informed by technology. The role of an SEO would be the task of a news editor and the Editor. A news editor, as the presiding deity of the desk, creates the USP of the day’s edition by slapping eye-catching headlines, by tapping into his experience as a journalist to find what sells.

How is it for a start? “Republicans turned off by the size of Obama’s package”. You may not have any interest in the government budget, but the heading would make you remember it for the pun. And even a bloomer can make it an all-time classic like – “17 remain dead in morgue shooting spree”.

The point that I am making here is that, if you are doing SEO, you are actually luring people in – the task of a desk in traditional media — and when you are removing barriers to indexing activities of search engines you are actually reaching out to more and more markets – the job of circulation in print.

However, within the content, of course, we are now so saturated with our obsession with keywords that we have forgotten that it’s actually about finding out the ‘news point’.

Think about it. It’s nothing but trying to fix the content in a manner so that when the people search for specific content, the content that they are trying to find, if that matches yours, the search will take them to yours.

Did Mrs Funnybones start writing her blogs worrying sick about keywords or their frequency of occurrence across her blog? I doubt. That blog is powered not by keywords but by the content. And look where it has taken her to! Yes, the platform was important. But that merely provided her with the initial draw. Rest is now history.

As I said at the beginning, if you are in the world of digital communication you are in the business of communication where ‘digital’ is merely the purveyor of the content.  With SEO, keywords and other stuff remaining as important pointers. But Words are the ones you go to bed with.  Well, in short, you need to be kickass with words and a badass as an entrepreneur who leverages words. As the Bible said, “in the beginning was the word…”.  And my case rests.

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