Vinod Mehta: Appraisals In The Media
Media houses paid their tributes to the last great editor, Vinod Mehta, who died on the morning of March 8.
Mr Mehta, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Outlook, left his indelible mark on journalism for his wit, freshness of approach and integrity.
Some obituaries from colleagues and fellow-journalists:
Chandan Mitra in his tribute in The Pioneer calls him "An Editor From Beginning to End"
"Vinod’s qualities as a writer are sufficiently well known to merit recall. But as an editor, he was universally applauded not for his scholastic understanding or linguistic flourish, but the sheer simplicity of prose. I always found him to be a man who knew his limits as a journalist.
Never an intrepid reporter running around to break news stories, Mehta came up trumps because of his uncanny ability to package a story. This set a trend at a time when Indian journalism was mostly glorified stenography, merely reporting which politician said what. He was less concerned about a paper’s lead story and more about whether the gossip items in the daily Diary column were juicy enough."
The Hindu in its article penned by Smita Gupta says that his demise marke the "End of an Era in Journalism".
"If he had an unerring instinct for a good story, he also knew precisely how to spin a done to death story to extend its shelf life. He revelled in controversies and scandals. At Outlook — where I worked for six years — editorial meetings were always brief: if you had not pitched your idea with almost headline-like brevity, you were in danger of losing his attention. When your story was written, he knew exactly what needed to be elaborated on, sometimes pushing you to say what you had hesitated to say. Always democratic, he never held a disagreement on a story anyone might have had with him against that person. He was never pompous. Mr. Mehta, of course, was not infallible; if he had dismissed a reporter’s assessment and then found later that he was wrong, he might not have apologised, but he would make it up to the reporter swiftly — for instance, by handing out a plum assignment."
The article in The Indian Express , written by Coomi Kapoor throws light on The Lucknow Boy's journalistic journey.
"Vinod was an iconoclast who brought a breath of fresh air into the fairly conservative world of journalism of the nineteen eighties. He had an unconventional approach towards editing newspapers, brimming with ideas he was shorn of any pomposity. He started out in the profession as editor of Debonair magazine, known then more for its steamy semi-nude centre spreads than its literary content. But Vinod introduced thought provoking articles to give the magazine a new character. From Debonair he went on to ?launch a new Sunday tabloid , the Sunday Observer, whose chatty informal style and out-of-the-box approach to displaying stories, pioneered a new ?form of Sunday reading. The political gossip column became a staple along with human interest pieces on the high and the mighty."
While Anjali Puri in her obituary in Business Standard talks about his editorial finesse.
"At editorial meetings, his eyes lit up at the hint of scandal and controversy, and he was deeply suspicious of what he saw as preachiness or pretentiousness in a writer, though sometimes respectful of genuine erudition and originality. The worst thing he could say about a prospective columnist or a book reviewer was “boring as hell”. Stories are legion about Mehta’s knack of packaging a story more boldly than a nervous reporter had intended, especially since he was never too weighed down by political correctness. Once, in his Mumbai days, he famously gave a serious piece by a feminist writer on the pressures on women to conform to depilation and conventional norms of femininity, the headline: “ I love my hairy legs”."
Arnab Goswami pays his rich tribute in Times of India calling him a man of immense integrity but thoroughly unpredictable.
"In this complicated world where journalism has come to coexist with intrigue, agenda, lobbies and motive, Vinod was the one editor who wasn't looking over his shoulder to check what others thought of his news stories or his opinion. Vinod, I will miss you. You were the most straightforward man I have dealt with. The kindest human being I have known."
M J Akbar in Economic Times says Mehta always lived the life of an editor.
He talks about his honesty and fearless attitude and the decision-making capability as an editor.
"This much must be said of him, and for most of his contemporaries: they did not confuse integrity with heroism. It was simply a non-negotiable part of their job, an aspect of generational inheritance, for Indian journalism has great men and women of enormous honesty and brilliance in its hall of greats. Vinod Mehta wore his honesty lightly. That is why it looked so comfortable upon him."
Saika Datta, who was his previous colleague at Outlook, writes how Mehta always stood by him and other fellow journalists, in Hindustan Times.
"Early in my career with him, as I chased down a major arms deal and its attendant kickbacks, the arms dealers were trying their best to shut down the story. They were filing suits in courts, seeking injunctions to ensure that the next story could be killed before publication.
But Mr Mehta gently put an affectionate arm around my shoulder one evening, probably aware of the tension that had crept into my face. “Don’t worry my friend,” he said, “if we go down, we will go down together. Just do your story and I will handle the rest”. Then, he walked away."
Anil Dharker in Hindustan Times talks about the journey with the 'Editor Unplugged'.
"What distinguished Vinod from his contemporaries was that he was no respecter of reputations, and politicians particularly were the objects of his mockery. That’s why when he moved to Delhi, he never developed a cosy relationship with ministers and politicians. His run-ins with proprietors was partly a result of this at-arms-length attitude. His falling out with Vijaypat Singhania at The Indian Post and LM Thapar’s Pioneer were spectacular in their suddenness, but he was stubborn in not following any diktats. In the battle that ensued someone had to go. Obviously that was the Editor."
Tarun Tejpal who worked as the managing editor of Outlook writes in the Mumbai Mirror:
One of the first impressions that formed was that of the two great editors with whom I worked - Aroon Purie [of India Today] and Vinod - the first was good with the solid story while the other had a thing for the hot story.
It became amply evident to the reporters who worked at Outlook that, unlike Purie, Vinod would not plunge into the minutiae of their workday lives. No one had to hew to a prescribed editorial line and the Editor-in-Chief would allow each one of us enough room to do our job unimpeded.
Principally, these were the gifts that remained with Vinod wherever he went and whatever he helmed - the Sunday Observer, Indian Post, The Independent, Pioneer Debonair and Outlook - openness, the pattern of seeking the gossipy side to a story, of being vivacious in his approach to the piece and, always, having a great big adventure.
Ajaz Asharf writes in the Firstpost:
But for all those who had worked under his helm, Vinod’s most exemplary and endearing quality was the democratic spirit he spawned in the organization he led. Editors are mostly authoritarian, inspiring fear and silence and revolting obsequiousness. Vinod chose to create a relatively flat world, where there were designations symbolizing responsibilities more than degrees of power. Even the most junior staffer could swing into his office; he wasn’t “Sir” but Vinod; you could toss four-letter words at him as frequently as he did at you.
Smruti Koppikar, his previous colleague at Outlook, writes in Scroll:
He belonged to the rare and diminishing breed of editors who did not court people in high offices or flaunt his friendships with the mighty names of our times. He lived, ate, drank, drove, worked and worried about old age in a commonplace manner that many of us do.
It was his voice that stood out. Over the 40-odd years of his journalism, through the years in Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post, The Independent, The Pioneer and Outlook, his voice came to stand for some of the most cherished values in journalism and public affairs: integrity, independence, irreverence and impartiality. He was the liberal iconoclast in the true sense, with slices of scathing wit and rare humility.
Ajith Pillai, another former colleague, writes in Scroll:
At one point, rather early in his career, it had become fashionable to say that Vinod Mehta knows nothing but his paper has credibility. So one must use the space he provides. A rather skewed logic, which did not bother him one bit. I worked with him for over 25 years and I can say that he simply judged stories on their merit and not because of their ideological tilt. This is perhaps why so many left- inclined journalists, human-rights activists and feminists were keen to write for him. At the same time, he accommodated right-wing views and stories provided they stood the test of reason.
The Editor's Guild issued a statement on Vinod Mehta's death, which they called 'a grievous loss to the media world':
In the passing of Vinod Mehta, the media world has lost a liberal, independent voice and the world of public discourse in India a reflective contributor who spoke his mind without rancour or fear. The veteran journalist who build up several publications, including Outlook in his last innings, was of an exceedingly generous spirit and has been a mentor and guide to scores of journalists. Gentle in manner and speech, yet firm in his views, he maintained a scrupulous distance and independence from political leaders and parties and was held in great respect by all in media, politics, industry and academia.
The Editors Guild of India of which he had been president will miss his wise counsel and guiding hand, and the media and the public policy worlds his thoughtful and perceptive observations.
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