Sunday, March 8, 2015

RIP, Vinod Mehta

The news of Vinod Mehta's passing away today was a shock. In many ways he was one-of-a-kind journalist.

My friends who have worked with him have spoken about his unique way of approaching news stories. A rare journalist, he started off his career as an editor, an editor who only looked for the merits in a story, and not whom it will hurt and whom it will please.

He had a down-to-earth, straightforward, simple way of arguing out his points of view. There were no complicated intellectual theories or roundabout deductions. No surprise, his pieces were a treat to read.

He had golden hands that made the publications he touched sparkle. He relaunched Debonair when he was just 32. There was no looking back.

He infused fresh ideas into newspaper reportage and design, as he launched the Sunday Observer, India's first weekly newspaper. Some of the design elements that he used (might have been borrowed from foreign newspapers) in Sunday Observer were a first in India and are still being used in all newspapers.

Two examples: One, on the front page, the rectangular boxes you see below the masthead (name of the paper) containing pointers to inside page news articles; and two, "briefly" group of news summary in the first column.

Then followed the Indian Post, the Independent and the Pioneer (relaunch). His policy of seeing news as only news, not bothering about whether it hurt or pleased anyone, brought him into conflict with not only political powers but also other editors and proprietors. His stints in none of the newspapers lasted long.

He launched Outlook weekly in 1995. Till then we all had only one India Today (which was a fortnightly) to look forward to as a current affairs news magazine. The fact that India Today was forced to become a weekly sums up the impact Outlook had. The newbie reflected Vinod Mehta's way of doing journalism, and quickly gained popularity.

Another remarkable feature he introduced in the Outlook was in the Letters to the Editor column. Letters critical of him and the magazine were highlighted with a boxed display, sometimes even with a cartoon. A very unusual tack for any publication to take -- the general tendency is to trash or underplay views of readers who don't agree with the editor or the line the publication has taken.

His Delhi Diary column on the last page of the Outlook was very popular.

Indian journalism will miss Vinod Mehta. Rest in Peace.

Some of the tributes:

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