12 May 2020 22:34 IST

What would we do without editors?

Ed: In which this columnist graciously appreciates the editing processes that add lustre to a story

This is my 220th piece for the Worldview column. And I’m still here largely because of a cohort of outstanding professionals who toil behind the scenes — editors.

I first became aware of their influence nearly seven years ago. At the time, I had been writing occasional pieces for the editorial pages of BusinessLine, so I was not altogether an unfamiliar commodity. The Bengaluru Bureau Chief of the paper had introduced me, by email, to Vinay Kamath, then and to this day, the leader behind BLoC.

Vinay and I met for coffee at the Orion Mall, in Bengaluru. It was a kind of job interview for sure because he was looking for columnists for a new subscription website that he had in mind — a resource designed for MBA students, current and aspirants. He said that the site would be rich with digital assets and draw on the infrastructure of BusinessLine, when necessary. By inviting people in business to provide opinion articles on a regular basis, he could bridge the gap between students and the corporate world. Aspirants could be swayed into pursuing a business education. Others would swear never to go down the path. Current MBA students — and professors even — could learn what happens out in the real world, far away from the protected environs of their campuses.

Novel concept

I thought the idea was brilliant. Having lived in America for over 26 years at the time, I had never seen anything quite like it. Even the Wall Street Journal, that grand old icon among business publications, didn’t have anything targeted to the world of business school students. Sure, there was the annual B-school rankings coverage and regular articles by that doyen of business school columnists, Melissa Korn, but a dedicated portal to provide awareness to current B-Schoolers and cultivate interest among aspirants? I complimented him but he demurred in taking full credit. He said that it was an idea that represented the collective thinking of a cohort of senior editors and that he had just been out peddling it.

Then, the interview began. What could I write about? Could I really submit something every week? “People think that they can write but ideas fizzle out after a few weeks,” he said, with a smile, as he stirred his coffee. “Even if they do write, they end up repeating themselves. Writer’s block, you know?”

I responded that I felt confident about that aspect of the job. I am an avaricious reader, so I could always find a topic to write about. The world was wide. I wasn’t writing a book, after all. It was only a relatively short essay each week. There was a glint in his eye which said that he had heard the same assurances from numerous writers before. We parted but agreed to stay in touch because the proposal was still largely in his mind.

Nothing happened for months. I was in Pune to attend the first India-Australia one-day cricket match of 2013, when I got a call from Vinay. He confirmed that the management team had approved the plan and the project was getting off the drawing board. So, would I still be interested to write a weekly column? “Let’s call it Worldview. You may write about anything that happens around the world. Leave India to my other writers.” I immediately accepted and thanked him for the call.

Again, nothing happened for a long time. In fact, though BL on Campus ran as an 8-page print edition, five days a week, from 2013 to 2015, the portal itself didn’t launch until April 2015. I was away with my family on a European vacation, when Vinay wrote asking if I could contribute my first piece. Excited, I wrote it — “How to do Europe on your own” — on an Android tablet sitting in a hotel room in San Remo, overlooking the Mediterranean.

The Worldview column

It was only then that I began to realise what an enormous project Vinay and his team of editors had undertaken and successfully completed. Reading my piece online for the first time a day later, I was impressed with the site’s design. These were early days yet, but the colourful front page was going to be a hit. There were videos, other multimedia content, and surveys. Embedded links to social media were everywhere. Five years later, the website is even better — with columns on a range of subjects by erudite writers, deep-dive sector insights by analysts, case study contests, videos, slideshows, and quizzes. Integrated now with the main BusinessLine web domain, it is an offering that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

My submission deadline each week is noon on Tuesday IST, late at night on Monday in Texas, where I live. I send my content as an email. About twelve hours later, I get to see my piece enlivened on the BLoC portal.

Metamorphosis

The metamorphosis is not easy. Editors have to review my submission for correctness, clarity, engagement, and delivery. Does it have the right structure? Is it coherent? Did I provide sufficient evidence for my assertions? In an article three years ago titled, “India’s drive-time radio shows can do so much better,” I had argued that FM radio stations could broadcast news to hook their audiences and keep them glued to the dial. My editorial team corrected me, quoting the Prasar Bharati Act which only permits All India Radio to broadcast news — and proceeded to rewrite two sentences. How in the world did they know this, I wondered.

The subtitle, the few words that summarise a 1,000-word essay, is so crucial to professional journalism. To this day, I have always had trouble subtitling my work. The BLoC editorial team always makes it look so easy. The photo selection is equally amazing. Not all of them are stock pictures either; the graphics are sometimes designed specifically for my submission. And the sub-headings which group a few paragraphs into one are always a class act.

And there’s the overall presentation on the portal. WorldView is given prominence on a single day of the week, but other columns gain their own presence during other days. Which brings me to the most important point. The editorial team has to do what they do with me each week — with every other contributor. Everything needs to be just right. Because if it isn’t, it shows for the world to see.

I have met so many outstanding professionals in the BLoC newsroom in Chennai, the well of cubicles that forms workspaces for some of the smartest people I have known: Parimala Rao, Mahima Jain, Pradipti Jayaram, Apuurva Sridharan, Aakansha Srinivasan, Ananya Revanna, and Purnima Das. Nearly all of them have left the well and moved on to other careers, their new organisations, no doubt, grateful for the incredible skills they gained during their time at BL, part of The Hindu Group. And this week, it is Parimala’s turn. She will hang up her boots, and look forward to enjoying retirement, savouring even more books, music, theatre and, of course, travel, whenever things get back to normal.

So long, farewell

Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight

Adieu, adieu

To you and you and you

I will be back with my column next week.

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