Category Archives: For the record

Vinod Mehta, the Last Great Editor, 1942-2015

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sans serif records with deep regret the passing of the Editorial Chairman of Outlook magazine, Vinod Mehta, in New Delhi on Sunday, 8 March 2015. He was 73 years old and had been ailing for some time.

He leaves behind his wife Sumita Paul, their canine companion, “Editor”, two brothers and a sister—and legions of orphaned colleagues, compatriots and competitors.

As the founding Editor-in-Chief of Outlook, Mr Mehta re-energised Indian magazine journalism with a freshness of approach, an openness of spirit, and a lightness of touch.

All through his long innings as editor, writer and a television talking head, Mr Mehta brought trademark wit, candour, and non-partisanship to the table, endearing him to readers and viewers, and to friends and foes, across the country and across the globe.

Rare is the rival who can’t find a good word.

Editor from the day he stepped into journalism from the advertising world in 1974, Mr Mehta’s first job was as editor of the monthly men’s magazine, Debonair. He founded India’s first weekly newspaper, The Sunday Observer, from where he went on to edit The Indian Post and The Independent in what was then Bombay.

Mr Mehta moved to Delhi in the early 1990s, when he became Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer, but his 17-year helmsmanship of Outlook magazine was his longest tenure.

He was president of the Editors Guild of India and was, briefly, the writer and presenter of “Letter from India” on the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4.

Born in Rawalpindi and brought up in Lucknow, the self-proclaimed “BA, second class” was the author of six books, three of which were biographies (Bombay, Sanjay Gandhi and Meena Kumari), two were memoirs (Lucknow Boy and Editor Unplugged), one was a compilation (Mr Editor, how close are you to the PM?”).

An undisguised cricket fanatic and foodie, Mr Mehta was a magnet of tasteful gossip which he deftly let loose into the system through his widely read diaries on the last page of Outlook.

Mr Mehta disliked hyperbole and big words. His motto in journalism was to make the important interesting, but Indian journalism is decidedly poorer today with the disappearance of a lodestar of professional integrity, on whom could easily be placed the sobriquet The Last Great Editor.

Photograph: Vinod Mehta (left) with Deepak Shourie and Jyotsna Shourie at the ground-breaking ceremony for the launch of Outlook in 1995.

When a veteran reporter heard he had the big ‘C’

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Journalists see plenty of disease, despair and death in the line of duty. Even if we do not entertain prospects of immortality, our near-constant exposure to the dark and grim side of life somewhat inures us to its only certainty.

But what when it hits home?

Krishna Vattam, for 40 years the Mysore correspondent of the Bangalore-based dailies Deccan Herald and Praja Vani, has been there, done that—and survived to tell the tale.

In a new book, Joy of Conquering Cancer: A Spiritual Dimension, to mark the silver jubilee of his triumph, cancer-survivor Vattam describes how he heard the bad news 25 years ago, and what happened thereafter.

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By KRISHNA VATTAM

It was a hot day in the summer of 1990. A professional errand to a cancer detection camp, a chance stroke of luck, which brought unexpected and ever unsuspected developments, led me and my family to live through nearby a three-year period of agony, trauma, anxiety and uncertainty.

Call it a freak incident, an ordain of God or the graciousness of the Almighty – if I had skipped this visit to attend a far more important engagement, important from a journalist’s perspective, I wonder what would have happened and whether I would have been able to catch cancer in time and outwit the disease before those deadly cells had grown up to trip me into the abyss of no control, giving me no opportunity to look back and share my experiences with you today.

When I stepped out of my house on that sunny morning in the first week of April 1990 to attend the cancer detection camp, I least suspected that I was going there with the disease in my being.

The Bangalore–based Kidwai Memorial Cancer Hospital, in an outreach programme, had organized the camp in Mysore in the expansive Nanjaraja Bahadur Choultry and it was the first of its kind in this city.

Bharath Cancer Hospital, which owes its existence to the vision of B.S. Ajai Kumar, an NRI Doctor, was opened in Mysore a few months after the Camp was conducted.

The local Jain community had sponsored the medical camp and medical practitioner Dr. Prasanna Kumar, an assistant professor at the JSS Medical College, who was a leading member of the community and my close friend, came to my residence and invited me to give the inaugural function of the camp.

He requested me to give a good coverage of it in the Deccan Herald, the leading English daily in Karnataka, which I was privileged to represent as its Mysore Correspondent.

A good number of people from the city and surrounding villages had registered their names at the Camp for getting examined, and it turned out to be that the ailments many of them were suffering from were unrelated to cancer.

There was a formal inaugural function of the Camp for about 45 minutes and after that the doctors dispersed to examine the registered camp attendees.

I do not call them patients, as in the strict sense of the word they were not. They had come to consult, since such free health check camps were rare in those days. It mattered little to them, whether the consultants they were seeing were oncologists or general practitioners, but, in their opinion, they were all doctors who could attend to any kind of ailment. I spent some time in the examination rooms.

I saw my friend Nissar Ahmed Shariff, a very good footballer, coming out with his mother from one such room, looking very depressed. As he saw me, he could not control his emotions and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he told me that the doctors suspected that his mother had cancer.

I was also moved and placed my right hand on his shoulder and comforted him saying “Don’t worry, God is with you”. Then he stepped forward and addressing his mother, who was standing behind him, with folded hands, said “Maaji, Ooperwala hai.”

It was easy to console and comfort others but when it comes to oneself, how helpless and distraught one could be, I realized very shortly thereafter.

A big printed pamphlet hung around the huge column of the Choultry building, caught my attention. This poster, which was printed both Kannada and English was one such public information in nature, asking people having those symptoms to get examined in the camp.

One such symptoms was “difficulty in swallowing”, I noticed.

It nearly shook me off the ground.

Yes, I had been experiencing this problem for some time now.

***

It was around November 1989, about six months before this camp, I was attending the South Zonal Conference of the INTACH Conveners at Cochin, Kerala, as the Convener of the Mysore Chapter of the Indian National Trust Fort Art and Cultural Heritage.

As I was having lunch, I found it difficult to swallow the cooked rice. I stopped eating and set aside my plate in the basket meant for used dishes.

This did not worry me for after my return to Mysore. I felt normal and was able to eat without any difficulty.

But in February 1990, I experienced a similar problem while I was returning from Varanasi after participating in the National Conference of INTACH Conveners, I bought some oranges at the Varanasi Railway Station.

Once seated in a compartment I leisurely peeled an orange and put a small piece into my mouth and found I could not swallow the chewed orange. I went into the toilet compartment, thrust two fingers in my mouth and forcibly vomited the orange stuck in my gullet.

I felt relieved physically but I was worried. On my return to Mysore, I consulted a few ENT specialists and x-ray was also taken during the course of their examinations. None of them could detect anything abnormal. I felt reassured.

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When I noticed “difficulty in swallowing” on the pamphlet at the cancer detection camp at the Nanjaraj Bahadur Choultry at Mysore on that day, as one of the symptoms of cancer, I began worrying.

Just a few minutes before, I had infused a sense of confidence in Nissar Ahmed and his mother I found myself in a state of shock now.

A press reporter who went to cover the inaugural function of the cancer detection camp got examined on realising that he too had one of the symptoms of Cancer. Here too the doctor who examined him assured that his difficulty in swallowing my not necessarily be related to cancer. He suggested having an x-ray taken in the mobile unit which had been brought along with the medical team from Bangalore.

The general human tendency is not to think of the worst and the words of the doctor that my problem may not be related to cancer as such, and his encouraging words, “Not to worry”, lulled me, so much so, that that I did not bother about my visit to the camp or about the x-ray in the days that followed. I was attending to my duties.

Ten days later at about 10.30pm the telephone rang at my house.

I took the receiver and heard “Is it Krishna Vattam”, a voice enquiring from the other end. “Yes, speaking”, I replied. “Vattam Saab, take it easy. From the x-ray that was taken in the camp, the doctors suspect it to be cancer. You have to go to Kidwai Hospital tomorrow,” the speaker at the other end informed me.

The word sounded like a death warrant to me. Even as he was speaking, I instantly began to experience shock waves passing through my body.

Like a paralytic, I felt that my legs were benumbed.

I could not stand and felt that I was being pushed down.

I squatted on my haunches still holding the receiver in my left hand.

I had not informed my mother or Kamala, my wife, about my visit to the cancer detection camp and the x-ray that was taken there.

I had felt that the change situation of the unintended “checkup” did not call for the family members being informed. Further I had thought that any such talk may unnecessarily lead them to worry about my health.

My mother, who was sitting on the cot next to the table on which the telephone was placed, jumped out and rushed towards me crying out, “devare” (oh God) as she saw me sink on my knees with the receiver in my hand.

Kamala, who was resting in the adjacent room, rushed to me, and I heard both of them, amma and wife, anxiously asking me over and over again, “What happened?” I babbled in a voice that faltered, “They say I have cancer.” These five words uttered by me made them feel that the world around us had collapsed.

I rested my head on the mother’s bosom just as I would have done as child after suckling, although the situation faced on that day by a 57-year-old son and his 82-year-old mother and suckling child of its young lactating young mother were of two different nature.

After all, the bond of a mother and a son in the same at all times. Kamala rested her head on my neck, and all of us were weeping. When Shyam, my son, returned home from Times of India office, where he was serving as a reporter of the paper, he found us all weeping.

Kamala was the first to break the news to him. He went out of the verandah, sat on the granite bench within our compound, and was sobbing silently.

Shortly, thereafter, amma and wife went out and began consoling him. “Our Lord Narasimha is there. Appa has done no harm to anyone. He will never let us down,” I heard my mother reassuring her grandson.

The beds for all of us to sleep on that night were spread out in the “hall”, the living room as it is known in common parlance in some parts of South India. None of us could sleep throughout the night. All of us had our eyes glued to the ceilings as we anxiously contemplated the future that had suddenly begun to look uncertain.

I held amma’s hand with an intense feeling of an assured protection and safety from her as I would have done as baby scared of ghosts.

In this confused and disturbed frame of mind, eager to avoid brooding over the call I received just an hour ago from Kidwai Hospital informing me about the suspected cancer in me, I began to reflect, as it were, on the tryst I had with destiny, the path I had followed throughout my life till then.

(Excerpted from Joy of Conquering Cancer: A Spiritual Dimension, published by Darpan, an imprint of Prism Books, Rs 125)

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Also read: ‘You can’t be a bad person but a good journalist’

Write to Krishna Vattam: krishnavattam@gmail.com

Telephone Krishna Vattam: 094-483-42549

A legend who told MLAs where to get off: RIP

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sans serif records the demise of S. Balasubramanian, the chairman of the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan—who also served as its editor, managing director and publisher for 50 years—in Madras on Friday, December 19. He was 78.

Mr Balasubramanian hit the national headlines in 1987 when he was sentenced, arrested and jailed for refusing to apologise for a cartoon published on the cover of the magazine, which Tamil Nadu’s legislators deemed a “breach of privilege“.

“He was released in two days after protests erupted all over the country but our editor was not satisfied with that. He filed a lawsuit against his wrongful arrest, asked for token compensation and won his case,” cartoonist Madhan, who served as joint editor of the Vikatan group, said.

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A photo frame featuring the scanned image of a cheque for the compensation amount, two 500-rupee notes and two paper cuttings hung like a trophy on a wall behind his chair.

Pioneer of a student-journalism programme long before “newspapers in education” became famous, Mr Balasubramanian also was famous for not allowing tobacco advertisements in his mass-circulation publications.

Ananda Vikatan was founded by Mr Balasubramanian’s father, S.S. Vasan, who founded Gemini studios. Although arrested under the M.G. Ramachandran regime, Mr Balasubramanian had produced an MGR film called Sirithu Vazha Vendum (live life smiling).

Photographs: courtesy The Hindu

‘Being a South Indian, his Hindi was immaculate’

ramansans serif records the demise of J.V. Raman, the Delhi University economics professor who read the news in Hindi, on Doordarshan, back in the days when the state-owned channel was the only TV news vehicle.

Mr Raman taught at the capital’s Rajdhani College, whose website proudly records that he was among the college teachers associated with the media.

blog post on Doordarshan’s newsreaders recorded Mr Raman thus:

“Let’s now come to some male Hindi newsreaders. And the most iconic of them would be J V Raman. Being a South Indian, his Hindi was immaculate. Thick black-rimmed glasses occupying most of face, he would comb the long-grown leftover over his bald pate. An average-looking gentleman, he had charmed Indian population like no one else could. If J V Raman was reading the news, everyone listened. Exceptionally clear and crisp voice, JV was the iconic figure for DD news.”

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Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent amid the cacophony

Salma Sultan: no monkeying around on India’s TV anniversary

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External reading: They are able too

Gitanji Aiyar: A sepia peek into the far yesterdays

India’s first woman journalist Vidya Munshi, RIP

sans serif records the demise of Vidya Munshi, arguably India’s first woman journalist, in Calcutta on Monday, 7 July 2014.  She was 94 years old.

Born in Bombay, she worked in several newspapers and magazines, including a ten-year stint with Russy Karanjia‘s Blitz.

A 2006 profile of Ms Munshi in The Telegraph, Calcutta, noted:

“At that time (1952-62), she was the Calcutta correspondent of Blitz, a Bombay weekly critical of government policies and excelling in investigative journalism.

“One of her ‘scoops’ was on two Canadian pilots who were to fly from Hong Kong with gold and drop it on an island in the Sunderbans, which was then to be smuggled into Calcutta.

“Another of her major stories that made headlines was on the Chinakuri mine disaster in Asansol where hundreds of miners were killed; the famous playwright and actor Utpal Dutt went on to script the tragedy into a chilling play, Angar.”

Also read: India’s first woman photo-journalist, Homai Vyarawalla

India’s first television news presenter: Pratima Puri

A rash I&B ministry “advisory” to TV, print media

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When he was health minister in the UPA’s first term, Anbumani Ramadoss made it mandatory for movies and TV channels to show the statutory warning against smoking and drinking each time someone on screen lit a cigarette or sipped a drink.

The Telegraph reports that the NDA’s information and broadcasting ministry under Prakash Javadekar has shot off an “advisory” to TV stations and newspapers “against portraying or “glorifying” rash or dangerous driving, as well as helmet-less riding and a failure to fasten car seatbelts.”

“All TV channels/ Doordarshan/ print media are advised to be extremely careful in portraying such stills/ images/ scenes which depict rash, negligent or dangerous driving; and in case such portrayal is necessary, then it may be accompanied by appropriate messages/ warnings,” the letter said.

The letter also spelt out a few of the possible warnings: “Over speeding kills”, “Driving two-wheeler without wearing helmet is dangerous and illegal”, “Driving four-wheeler without wearing seatbelt is dangerous.”

Read the full article: Rash driving edict to newspapers

Also read: I&B ministry “advisory” on TV protest coverage

Indian Express, India Today teach NYT a lesson

To say that the Indian media is in a tizzy of seismic proportions would qualify as the understatement of the year. So far.

Editors are quitting, being sacked, or finding ever new ways of being quietly eased out. Promoters are exiting their dream projects after acquiescing to giant business houses. Reporters are making discreet enquiries. Etcetera.

Still, in the midst of all the bloodbath, there has been a palpable sense of grace in the manner in which Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express has been sent off by his organisation, and the manner in which he has been welcomed to his new port of calling, the India Today group.

Despite Gupta’s exit being in the air for nearly a year, the Express went out of its way to promote his new book, and Express chairman Viveck Goenka (to whom Gupta dedicated his collection of columns) was at hand at the book’s launch. Gupta’s last columns for the paper have been given pride of place on page one.

Goenka’s graceful letter below announcing Gupta’s exit—and Aroon Purie‘s dignified letter welcoming him back into the fold—are a lesson, in an era when even the supposedly great New York Times removed the name of its first woman editor Jill Abramson in a matter of hours.

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EXHIBIT A: VIVECK GOENKA, Chairman, The Indian Express

My dear colleagues

With much regret, I accept Shekhar Gupta’s resignation as Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express. I truly​ appreciate his letter to all of us and I wish him the very best.

Shekhar leaves on June 15, just a year short of his 20 years here — another moment of transition in the long history of this ​great institution.

When I chose him for the position of Editor​ in 1995, I was taking no leap in the dark. I was absolutely convinced that Shekhar, then 38, was the best person to guide this newspaper into the future. And I feel more than vindicated today.

So many news breaks (I have happily lost count) delivered by the finest reporters, editors, sub editors, designers and photographers, a team I am very proud of,  team which is the envy of every newspaper publisher: three International Press Institute Awards for Excellence in Journalism; the most questioning opinion section in the business and the most generous, too, given how it welcomes dissenting voices; a renewal of talent each year by the youngest and the brightest from our campuses – Shekhar leaves the newspaper stronger than ever.

Key to each one of these achievements has been the consistently stellar work of the Express team under the leadership of Editor Raj Kamal Jha.

Raj’s leadership is grounded in his commitment to professional excellence and uncompromising integrity. He brings to the newsroom creativity, clarity and depth, three qualities increasingly rare in our business. This not only inspires his colleagues, it powers them to realize their best potential.

Raj could not have a stronger partner in the newsroom than Managing Editor Unni Rajen Shanker.

Unni has been a reporter, an Editor, a Resident Editor (Mumbai) and Editor of the Express News Service. He brings to his leadership a deep understanding of all the different roles in the changing newsroom and an unrivalled sense of fairness and empathy. It’s this that enables him attract the finest talent and then nurture them. Unni is one of the pillars of the Express.

Since they joined in 1996, both have steered change and are, therefore, ideally placed to help guide the paper into the future. That is why, to facilitate a seamless transition, I am proud to repose my faith in them and redesignate them for their new roles.

Raj will be Chief Editor and will report to me. Unni will be Editor.

I look forward to working closely with them. They will find me every bit as supportive as all their predecessors, including Shekhar did, as we plan and implement exciting new upgrades to all our news brands.

There is​ work to do.

We have witnessed a remarkable election and an even​ more remarkable victory that bring with it challenges for all of us in the news business whose mission is to question, to report, to interpret and to analyse.

I firmly believe and, more so, given the changes in the media landscape, that these are challenges best suited for The Indian Express given how strongly independence and courage are wired in our ​genes​.

I believe that the present news media environment in India offers us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to what we do best: faithful and courageous journalism.

With all the shrill voices on TV, the paid news in print and the corporate funded or politician backed news organizations, The Indian Express must be the voice India can turn to and trust.

Speaking truth to power is hard wired in the genes of our editorial teams. The “Express” commitment to this legacy, mine and that of the future generation, will certainly endure. The newsroom is and will be the most sacred space in our institution.

I am committed to raising the bar and instilling a fresh new energy in our editorial teams. In addition to revamped content, I  look forward to closely integrating all our news operating systems because our growth is now across platforms. This​ was evident last month, during Verdict 2014.

We had print editions that were reported and produced to the finest standards and a digital edition that broke all our records with over 52 million page views, more than 100,000 active users for eight hours, a live video news stream from the Express newsroom, all of this making us among the five most visited news sites in the country.

Looking ahead, that’s the road we take. Not only reporting the news first but also being the first to understand it and​ question its assumptions. This means better stories, better analyses, better pictures, better everything and ensuring that The Indian Express journalism of courage reaches the reader wherever she is, whenever she wants it, whichever device she wants to receive it on.

Shekhar, whether he is at the Express or not, will always be a part of this journey.​ For, he leaves us with a sense of determination and purpose. And a wonderful tool-kit of ideas and values that we will use and keep adding to.

Please join me in wishing him, once again, the best of luck as he scales what I am sure will be a new professional summit.

And, Raj and Unni, let us​  get to work. I wish you and your teams my very best.

Best always

Viveck Goenka

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EXHIBIT B: AROON PURIE, Chairman, India Today group

Dear Colleagues

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Shekhar Gupta as Vice Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of all news properties of the India Today Group. It includes all our news and business publications, news TV brands and all related news and business digital brands. This comes into effect July 1, 2014.

This is a homecoming for Shekhar. He joined India Today in 1983 and was here for 12 eventful years during which he was an outstanding journalist. He broke many exclusive stories and covered world changing international events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, Afghan Jehad and the Tiananmen Square uprising.

In 1995, he took charge of The Indian Express group steering it into a position of editorial leadership and financial strength.

Shekhar is a reporter’s Editor, thinker, author, mentor and active on the international speaking circuit. He typically is an “all sleeves rolled up” hands-on professional who not only leads from the front but works collaboratively and believes in action.

He literally “Walks the Talk”! He is highly regarded  in the profession for his integrity independence and knowledge. That’s why he attracts, inspires and builds fine talent.

As I mentioned in my Founders Day speech I would like us to be the best media group in every which way by our 40th birthday which is two years from now. I believe Shekhar joining us would be a force multiplier in achieving this goal.

He will report to me and will be responsible for the editorial quality of all our news and business brands, and our overall expansion and profitability. He will work closely with Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, and enable him to effectively grow the readership and viewership of our brands, profitably.

Anil Mehra will step down as Vice-Chairman but will continue as consultant to advise the Group on matters of strategic importance.

At a personal level, Shekhar’s return is a moment of deep satisfaction and vindication of my belief, our shared belief, in the power of good journalism to reveal and to inform, to question the unquestioned, to help make sense of the noise rather than to add to it.

We need to work relentlessly to prove our essential belief that there is no contradiction between good journalism and the marketplace.

I have always believed: create good content and money will follow. That will be the principle behind another project that I greatly look forward to with Shekhar’s arrival: the launch of some new editorial offerings that will uniquely blend the best of reporting and analysis.

In his new role, Shekhar has promised to liberate me from day-to-day operations so that I can work to guiding the group into a future of great promise, growth and excitement.

Shekhar, welcome back.

Aroon

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Also read: An Aroon Purie tribute worthy of emulation

Aroon Purie: how to say goodbye to a departing editor