International Herald Tribune
The International Herald Tribune (IHT), a Paris-based newspaper now owned by The New York Times but rooted in France since its founding in 1887, has often styled itself as “the world's first global newspaper.” The claim has a great deal going for it. Printed, as of 2007, in 33 cities around the world and with a paid circulation of some 250,000 copies in more than 180 countries, the IHT is indeed a global newspaper presence. No more than 15 percent of its readership is located in any one “home” market—although roughly two-thirds of the copy sales are in Europe and the Middle East—with much of the remaining distribution coming throughout Asia.
What also makes the newspaper “global,” however, is the fact that it is edited from an international perspective. Its typical reader is thought to be a “citizen of the world,” a business or professional leader with broad international interests— who often reads the newspaper as a supplement to his or her own local or national press. While both news and advertising content vary to some degree from edition to edition, the IHT's principle purpose is to present an international overview that will place the news of any region in a broader, global context. What this often means, of course, is that readers must turn elsewhere for deeper local coverage.
Many of the readers of the International Herald Tribune are international travelers or expatriate residents—with a strong command of Page 762 | Top of ArticleEnglish—the language of globalization. But most of these readers (at least two-thirds are other than Americans) have come to regard the paper as their own “letter from home” while they live or travel abroad. The audience is affluent and well educated. Household income averages well above $150,000—and over 90 percent of the readers have a university degree. IHT journalists face the stimulating challenge of writing and editing for one of the world's most sophisticated, cosmopolitan audiences. Such an audience also allows the newspaper to realize a larger-than-normal portion of its revenues from circulation—most of its copies are sold on newsstands, at a price equating to more than US$2 a copy. The IHT's demographics also allow the paper to charge an unusually high price to advertisers, who prize its influential readership.
At the same time, the broadly scattered nature of this audience means that distribution costs are much higher than is normally the case. This fact, combined with the often-sluggish nature of international advertising markets, has made it difficult for the newspaper to achieve dependable profits in recent years—and, in some years, has experienced substantial operating deficits—though it has been a steadily profitable enterprise at other stages in its history.
Compounding the IHT's business challenges has been the growth of alternative sources of quality international news. Daily competition for readers comes principally now from the European and Asian editions of both the London-based Financial Times and New York's Wall Street Journal. At the same time, local and national newspapers have become increasingly able and inclined to present quality news coverage of the global scene. In addition, competition for large multinational advertising campaigns comes from a host of weekly and monthly magazines which now circulate aggressively across international borders.
All of these traditional publishing competitors have been joined over the past decade by new online, digital information sources—which are especially attractive and effective for the IHT's sophisticated core readers. In response, the paper has been developing its own news website as an important method for serving many of its constituents.
The Herald Tribune is building on a long history as a pioneer in applying new technologies to gathering and distributing news. The newspaper's founder, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., had been an investor in the first undersea telegraph cable project connecting the United States to Europe. Bennett was then the owner of the fabled New York Herald— founded by his father in 1835 and one of the country's very first widely circulated newspapers. With such a strong news institution on one end of the new cable system, Bennett thought it sensible to establish a counterpart newspaper on the other end—both as a way of distributing newly available material from the Western Hemisphere and as a collecting point for transmitting such material to America. The decision was made easier by the fact that Bennett found Europe to be a more tolerant setting for his flamboyant lifestyle—and because of his special affection for France, where he had spent a part of his childhood—and where he principally resided from the 1870s until his death in 1918.
On October 4, 1887, Bennett launched the New York Herald's European edition from a small print shop in the Les Halles district of Paris—it quickly became known as “The Paris Herald.” At the time, it was one of many small English-language newspapers circulating in the principal cities of the Continent. But as other such efforts came and went, Bennett's persisted and grew. His enthusiasm for technology was one of the reasons. He brought to Europe new developments such as the linotype, color comic strips, and half-tone photo engravings. His newspaper was among the first to bring information into its newsroom by radio and to distribute copies by automobile and, later, by airplane.
When World War I forced some Paris newspapers to suspend publication, Bennett, then in his seventies, took personal command of his editorial staff and continued to publish. He died just as the war ended—and his company passed, through an intermediate owner, into the hands of the Reid family—who merged the Herald with another nineteenth-century publishing giant, the New York Tribune, creating, in 1924, the New York Herald Tribune. When the Reids bought out the Chicago Tribune's storied Paris edition a decade later, the word “Tribune” also made its way onto the name-plate of the now-well-established Paris Herald.
The years which immediately followed marked a low point in the newspaper's history. Its New York owners gave it a long leash, and the management in Paris took a quieter attitude toward the rise of European fascism than did their State-side counterparts. This tendency was particularly clear when tourism sections about Germany were being planned—holding on to the advertising revenue they produced was something of a priority at the paper's Paris offices for a time. Nonetheless, a good deal of superb reporting continued to appear in the Herald Tribune's pages—and the experience was central in the determination of the Reid family following the war to bring the Paris edition under much tighter control.
The Paris Herald Tribune was the last free newspaper in any language to publish in Paris before the Nazi occupation of June 1940. It then closed for four dark years. But it reopened late in 1944 with new energy and discipline and the 1950s brought a great surge of success. Its New York parent, however, fell into difficult straits with the advent of television and the growing success of its chief competitor, The New York Times. John Hay Whitney, then U.S. ambassador in London, bought the Herald Tribune Company in 1959—in an expensive effort to save the New York paper, but he finally gave up the project amid the 100-day New York newspaper strike of the mid-1960s.
Having closed down the New York parent, however, Whitney was determined to save the Paris child. To this end he brought, first, The Washington Post and then The New York Times into the newspaper's ownership. On May 22, 1967, the Paris paper appeared for the first time under its new name, the International Herald Tribune.
The new nameplate signaled a new era. Under its tripartite ownership, the publication flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, steadily improving its profit, more than doubling its circulation, expanding its advertising sales, and consistently employing to great advantage the extraordinary journalistic resources—domestic and international—of the two leading American newspapers of the era. Their far-flung networks of correspondents and contributors became the IHT's networks as well, while the art of editing—sifting and winnowing, digesting and condensing, polishing and presenting incoming news— was honed into a distinctive art form by the editorial team in Paris. The paper also slowly assembled a small group of its own reporters, though this development was often a matter of some dispute among the three owning companies.
On the whole, however, the three-way ownership worked harmoniously, partly because the paper had a debt-free balance sheet—and, for a long time, did not represent any drain on the owning companies' financial resources.
Technological innovation was again an IHT watchword in the last third of the twentieth century. It became an early model of high-tech innovation in Europe when it computerized its editing and typesetting system in 1978. A bit earlier, in 1974, it had pioneered the electronic transmission of facsimile pages across international borders as it opened a remote printing site in London. A similar operation in Zurich followed in 1977. By the time of its worldwide centennial celebrations in 1987, the IHT was opening a new print site once every year on average—reaching both old and new markets earlier and a lower cost. The most dramatic of these steps came in 1980 as the paper launched a successful new Asian edition, printed in Hong Kong using page images which had been faxed via satellite from Paris. It was the first time that a daily newspaper had published simultaneously on two continents—available to readers over breakfast on opposite sides of the world.
The International Herald Tribune's three-way ownership became a two-way partnership in 1991, as the Whitney interest was sold to The New York Times and The Washington Post. In the late 1990s, however, as global newspaper economics began to change, so did the owners' patience with divided control. In 2003, the Times purchased the Post's 50 percent ownership, and became the sole proprietor. (Some at the Post felt that it had been forced out of the partnership by a Times threat to start a competing enterprise if the Post insisted on remaining a co-owner.)
After a period of intensive study (and anxious uncertainty) in the Paris offices, the Times moved to strengthen the paper on several fronts. Among other steps, a more distinctive Asian edition was created, in part through a more autonomous Hong Kong newsroom. The IHT's own corps of independent reporters was expanded— writing from an IHT point of view on IHT deadlines. And a stronger business and financial report was launched, designed to meet head-on Page 764 | Top of Articlethe intensifying competition with both the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.
At the heart of the IHT's continuing popularity, however, are the qualities which have characterized it from birth, an emphasis on credible and relevant information, skillfully reported and edited, attractively and efficiently presented. In an age of information overload, the paper's relative compactness has also remained an important asset.
But most importantly, in news environments around the world in which media traditions are often those of subjective comment and political advocacy, the IHT's effort to separate news and opinion—to pursue objectivity as a professional ideal—continues to be a stimulating breath of fresh air. “I read my local paper to find out what I am supposed to think,” a European reader once told a friend at the IHT. “And then I read the Herald Tribune to find out what happened.”
Lee W. Huebner
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