Category Archives: Magazines

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.

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

18 factoids in ‘Caravan’ profile of Shekhar Gupta

shekhar The December “media issue” of Caravan magazine has a 20-page profile of former Indian Express editor-in-chief and shortlived India Today editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta.

Authored by Krishn Kaushik, the profile is titled “Capital Reporter”, with the strapline “How profit and principle shaped the journalism of Shekhar Gupta”.

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# The son of a minor bureaucrat from Haryana, Shekhar Gupta‘s annual salary at The Indian Express sometimes exceeded Rs 10 crore ($1.6 million) per year. Current chief editor Raj Kamal Jha got Rs 1.25 crore, Jaideep “Jojo” Bose of The Times of India was paid under Rs 2 crore.

# Shekhar Gupta made Rs 36.67 crore in “capital gains” in 2009-10, through the demerger of the Indian Express‘s real estate wing and the newspapers, which resulted in the sale of the iconic Express Towers at Nariman Point in Bombay.

# Gupta is not too bothered with his exit from The Indian Express or his even hurried exit from India Today: “Look, I am a bit of a big fish right now for these factors to bother me now.”

# A senior television journalist is quoted as saying: “He is a social terrorist. He will look at you for five seconds, then look at the next person coming in.” Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar says Gupta once “cut me dead and walked away” at a party.

# Paranjoy Guha Thakurta: “He looks down upon you [if you are unable to make use of the opportunities the free market throws up, work hard and make it to the top].”

# After interviewing over 50 people, the reporter Krishn Kaushik writes that “detractors of the ‘Shekhar Gupta phenomenon’ contended that Gupta’s wealth compromised the “Journalism of Courage” he promoted at the Indian Express.

# Gupta categorically says: “Nobody can ever find a paisa which will be a surprise to my taxman or to any of my employers.”

# Fallen Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal who is quoted several times in the story, says: “If in reviving the Express he made money, not just the lala, I don’t know what the problem is.”

# When an Indian Express report on the alleged violations in the acqusition of land for Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani‘s Antilla tower was to appear in the Bombay edition, he called resident editor Samar Halarnkar “from a train in Italy” although in fairness, he did not block the story.

# Krishn Kaushik writes that at least half-a-dozen current and former members of the Express news team gave the reporter “specific instances” of stories being killed, allegedly without discussion with those reporting them—stories that went against a top industrialist, a cabinet minister, a real-estate group.

# One journalist described how Gupta once had him debrief a foreign government agency, which seemed irrelevant to any of the stories he was working on.

# Former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram was the ‘holy cow’ in the Express newsroom. “You could not criticise him.” The Express staff “sort of had the feeling that the Ambanis were untouchable.”

# Around the time Shekhar Gupta became CEO of Express, a gentleman called B.S. Raman would come to Express Towers in Bombay for a few hours every day from the nearby Reliance Industries’ office at Maker Chambers. Raman tells the reporter he was asked by his office to help Viveck Goenka‘s company.

# A Express staffer told the reporter that the C-story  “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked” had been pushed by P. Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, and Nehchal Sandhu, then the director of the intelligence bureau.

# Kaushik writes that Chidambaram pushed for Shekhar Gupta to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2009, which was eventually given to former Tribune, Express, TOI and Hindustan Tims editor, H.K. Dua. However, both Gupta and Chidambaram deny the claim.

# “Ashutosh Rais” was the pen name of former Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, for pieces which he wrote for Democratic World, where Shekhar Gupta held his first formal journalism job as an assistant editor.

# Shekhar Gupta had been in touch with Aroon Purie of India Today from around the time he relinquished the CEO role at The Indian Express in August 2013.

# Gupta’s mentor Arun Shourie said the jump to India Today as vice-chairman and editor-in-chief was a mismatch: “Yeh shaadi galat ho gayi hai.”

Anant Goenka, the son of Viveck Goenka who heads Express‘ online push and whose arrival in 2010 is widely seen as propelling Shekhar Gupta’s exit, did not speak to the Caravan reporter, saying he did not want to discuss an “ex-employee.”

Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

The Indian Express, Reliance and Shekhar Gupta

In ‘The Last Mag’, Nishant Patel is Fareed Zakaria

DILIP CHAWARE writes from New Jersey: The Last Magazine is Michael Hastings’s novel which has been published a year after his death. This controversial young journalist, who worked for Newsweek as a war correspondent, died last year in a car accident in Los Angeles when he was just 33.

Very few were aware about this book, which was resurrected from his laptop.

The novel, though, is a portrayal of real life within a major news organisation, the nexus between the government and the media and broadly discusses the relevance and future of the print medium.

Hastings is back in the news owing to his Rolling Stone article published in 2012, surrounding the recent release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban. The article dealt with Bergdahl’s army platoon.

Various references in the novel The Last Magazine clearly identify its main players.

The character of Nishant Patel is in fact Fareed Zakaria, then international editor of Newsweek. Patel is painted as having a mega ego.

Zakaria’s bête noir is Jon Meacham, (Sanders Berman in the novel), the managing editor.

Patel and Berman vie with each other to appear on television.

Both want to be visible and compete to write cover stories for Newsweek.

Hastings captures a turbulent period of half a decade, beginning 2002. It is a difficult time for a sensitive journalist and centres on the war with Iraq.

Hastings implies by innuendo that the news media in the US collaborated with the government while covering the conflict. He lampoons all and sundry, based on his firsthand experience as a frontline war correspondent.

Hastings lost his girlfriend Andi Parhamovich, who was killed in 2007 when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq. She was an aid worker. He wrote a book I Lost My Love in Baghdad, based on that experience.

His second-last book, The Operators was published in 2012. It is about the US military presence in Afghanistan. That book was a result of an article Hastings wrote in Rolling Stone.

The incisive article proved to be the death knell for the career of Gen Stanley A. McChrystal, the US supreme commander in Afghanistan.

Hastings worked as an intern in Newsweek for a year 2002-3. This was the time the US escalated its war with Iraq. This was also the period when the electronic medium was seen overshadowing the print medium.

The Last Magazine deals with a professional’s dilemma and the dejection he felt due to the decline of professionalism of the print medium. His grim predictions proved too true in the case of Newsweek, which had to fold up.

His wife Elise Jordan was instrumental in publishing the unfinished novel on the first anniversary of his death. Hastings was 25 when he first went to Baghdad.

Due to the death of Andi Parhamovich, he was diagnosed of suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder. Jordan, a Yale graduate was a speechwriter for then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She was an avid advocate of war against Iraq.

Hastings and Jordan’s courtship started in 2010 in Kabul. While he was working on the McChrystal article, she was on a freelance assignment a magazine. They married in 2011.

Hastings died at 4.20 am last year on June 18 as his Mercedes crashed into a tree in Los Angeles. His death became grist for the conspiracy theorists for some time. But the coroner declared that he had marijuana and trace methamphetamines in his blood.

Hastings is no more but the debate he unleashed rages on.

(Dilip Chaware is a former journalist with The Times of India, Bombay)

Photograph: courtesy Amazon

Also read: Will this man be the next US secretary of state?

Fareed Zakaria: a barometer in a good suit

Iran to China, Newsweek has the world covered

Who, when, what, how, why, what the…

The scoop interview that didn’t see light of day

Reporters look as if they have been stabbed in the back, as if the world as they knew it has come to an end, when their favourite stories and hobby horses are stopped in their tracks by those godawful editors who have “never been in the field” unlike the only Indian living editor who has been a reporter.

Amit Roy, the London correspondent of The Telegraph, Calcutta, and once a reporter with the Daily Telegraph, London, recounts a similar tale of woe from a long time past—concerning Anthony Howard, a former editor of the New Statesman, who died in 2010, aged 76.

“Howard was described as “one of the most acute political commentators of his generation.”

“So he was, but on Indian politics he was not infallible, even though the Left-wing New Statesman has long boasted expertise on India.

“In 1975, when I was in Calcutta on holiday, my father persuaded me to go to Bihar and see Jayaprakash Narayan—“there’s only one story in India.”

“I managed to catch up with JP in deepest Bihar. Initially, he refused to grant an interview but then relented when someone told him I was my father’s son – the two had been close friends in their Bihar days (a card I hadn’t played).

“JP affectionately put an arm round me, told me not to be cross and gave me an interview which lasted from 10 pm till dawn. Alas, the New Statesman “spiked” my long piece because the then unknown JP and his campaign against Indira Gandhi seemed like gobbledegook to Howard.

“Sorry, I was wrong,” he was gracious enough to apologise when we met at a drinks party after the declaration of the Emergency.”

Image: courtesy India Today

Also read: ‘A cricket writer as loved as any great cricketer’

Does journalism have any power any longer?

A half-century in the service of the Paper Tigers

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The evening newspaper Star of Mysore profiles M.R. Subramanya, popularly called by his admirers as “Paper Subbanna“, who has just completed 50 years as a newspaper distributor in Mysore.

Subbanna entered newspaper distribution in 1963 after unsuccessfully launching Chitralaya, a tabloid devoted to the Kannada film industry in Bangalore.

“I am happy with my profession and I am contented in life. The advent of TV has led a steep fall in newspaper readership which is regrettable but reading a newspaper over a cup of tea is itself a different and a wholesome experience.”

Photograph: courtesy Star of Mysore

RIL, Network18 & the loss of media heterogeneity

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Even as the takeover of Network18 by India’s biggest corporate house, Reliance Industries Limited, receives scant scrutiny in the mainstream media on what it portends in the long term, the journalist and educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta weighs in, in the Economic & Political Weekly:

“The consequence of RIL strengthening its association with Network18 is a clear loss of heterogeneity in the dissemination of information and opinions. Media plurality in a multicultural country like India will diminish.

“In particular, the space for providing factual information as well as expressing views that are not in favour of (or even against the interests of) India’s biggest corporate conglomerate will shrink, not just in the traditional mainstream media (print, television and radio) but in the new media (internet and mobile telephony).

“There is growing concentration of ownership in the country’s already-oligopolistic media markets. In the absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership, these trends will inexorably lead to the continuing privatisation and “commodification” of information instead of making it more of a “public good” that could benefit larger sections of society, in particular the underprivileged.”

For the record, RIL sent Thakurta a legal notice for his book Gas Wars: crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.

Read the full article: What future for the media in India?

File photograph: RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani holds a jar containing the first crude oil produced from the KG-D6 block in 2009 (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

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Also read: Has media blacked out RIL takeover of Network 18?

‘Media freedom bleaker with Ambani domination’

Will RIL-TV18-ETV deal win CCI approval?

The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

Why the Indian media doesn’t take on the Ambanis

Rajya Sabha TV tears into Reliance-TV18 deal

EPW on the Reliance-ETV-RIL deal within a deal

WaPo, Amazon, HT and the Reliance-TV18 deal