Adieu IHT, hello International New York Times
The International Herald Tribune published its last edition as a brand on Monday with a special supplement marking the paper's 125-year history. On Tuesday, the Paris-based daily hits the stands with a new masthead, The International New York Times.
For a generation of readers, the slim but worldly newspaper was epitomised by actress Jean Seberg’s cry, “New York Herald Tribune!” on the streets of Paris in Jean-Luc Godard’s iconic 1960 film, Breathless (À bout de souffle).
In the course of its 125-year history, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune has had several names, owners and partnerships. Now, it’s time for a change again.
On Tuesday, the IHT as a brand will cease to exist. Instead, the internationally renowned paper will be rechristened The International New York Times.
Announcing the change earlier this year, Mark Thompson, president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, which owns the paper, said the company arrived at the decision after exploring its prospects with international audiences, and noted there was “significant potential to grow the number of New York Times subscribers outside of the United States.”
A day before the paper got on with the new, the Paris-based editorial staff bid a magnificent adieu to the old.
Monday’s final edition of the IHT included a special 24-page special supplement titled, “Turning the Page” featuring iconic moments in the newspaper’s history, including personal reminiscences by leading journalists and a photo-spread of some of the epic news stories of the 20th century.
The supplement also included plenty of self-referential markers of the paper’s illustrious history, including the likes of Andy Warhol and Martin Luther King devouring the newspaper – and yes, a gamine-faced Seberg in a snug “New York Herald Tribune” T-shirt in conversation with her Breathless co-star, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
“The pages you hold in your hands are the last to bear the name ‘International Herald Tribune’ before the paper is rechristened ‘International New York Times.’ But weep not…” the supplement proclaimed.
‘Weird. And ugh’
But on mass and social media sites, many diehard readers were shedding a digital tear or two.
“I'm going to miss the IHT. I even miss the days when it combined the best of the NY Times & the Washington Post,” tweeted Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, reflecting on the days when the paper was jointly owned by the top two US dailies.
In 2002, the New York Times Company purchased the 50% stake owned by The Washington Post Company.
For some critics, the Times takeover of the IHT sealed the paper’s fate. “The Times has recently been jettisoning anything and everything that doesn’t have the flagship brand name attached (the Boston Globe, About.com, et cetera),” noted Andrew Leonard in Salon.com. “The bean counters are probably right, this time.”
But while Leonard conceded that the new strategy made marketing sense, the rechristening, he noted, was ugly.
“One might wonder how something can simultaneously be called ‘International’ and ‘New York’ but the ugliness of the new title shouldn’t distract from the logic of the rebranding,” he said.
It was a sentiment shared by journalist Joyeeta Basu. “From IHT to INYT. International Herald Tribune is now International New York Times. Quite a mouthful. Weird. And ugh” tweeted Joyeeta Basu.
Transatlantic cultural differences
Ugliness aside, media commentators and industry insiders have long noted a growing discontent in the IHT’s Paris offices with staffers noting that the paper was gradually losing its autonomy to the “gray lady” – as the New York Times is known – in New York.
Writing in the Nieman Journalism Lab website, Nikki Usher, an assistant professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, noted that there were transatlantic cultural differences and a fair amount of hubris in New York with Times editors often slamming the Paris-based paper.
“In New York, I would walk by or listen to editors who would snipe at the quality of IHT coverage; they might laugh at the layout of the newspaper, question the quality of quotes or the conception of a lede, or otherwise deride the produce as inferior material,” noted Usher, based on the time she spent at the paper.
In contrast, IHT editors who had worked at the Times were taken seriously. “Working at the mothership – even for just a little bit – was viewed by International Herald Tribune employees as a sign that they were valued and noticed by the Times company,” said Usher.
Founded in 1887 as the Paris Herald, the paper has always been viewed as an upmarket product for well-heeled Americans abroad. It hardly mattered if readers were American students abroad scrimping on their budgets to buy the IHT, or US businessmen on international postings or visits. The vision of the American in Paris opening the Trib at a café overlooking the Champs d’Elysée or Jardin des Tuileries characterised the paper as essential reading material for the elite.
It was a sensitivity that seemed at odds with the bosses in New York, according to Usher.
“The International Herald Tribune has been a brand for 40 years, but the idea of an expat paper written for the leisure/elite business class seems distinctly at odds with the hard-charging vision of The New York Times,” noted Usher. “Perhaps in a globalizing digital world, stopping to sip coffee and read an American newspaper in Paris is a luxury two centuries old. But the death of a brand is also a signal of a change in mission – with equally the potential for reinvention as well as the potential for loss.”
For the moment, New York Times officials are keen to focus on the reinvention. “This recognizes our global reach and is an exciting and logical move,” Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, noted earlier this year when the news of the rechristening broke.
Thompson, the president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, agreed. “The digital revolution has turned The New York Times from an American newspaper to becoming one of the world’s best-known news providers. We want to exploit that opportunity.”
And so, another brand name in the fast-dwindling annals of print journalism has embraced its extinction.