Sunday, October 13, 2013

Less sexy, more Times

Tomorrow the International Herald Tribune will wear a less sexy brand as it becomes the International New York Times.  In many ways it’s still the same paper, but the change will take away the romantic sort of detachment that readers have experienced when looking at the world through a less evident American lens. 

Of course Jean Seberg’s character helped create the chic image of the IHT by selling copies on the Champs Élysées in Godard’s 1960 film “Breathless.” In fairness, the name was then New York Herald Tribune, but there was perhaps more cosmo-chic by not including the Times in the brand. Years later, the IHT suprisingly maintained its same status of “cool” even after being prominently featured in the painfully bad 2009 Julia Roberts film “Duplicity.”

There was a panic in the Paris IHT newsroom in 2002 just a few weeks after I started my first job there reporting on bonds and financial markets. The New York Times had just bought the Washington Post’s half-share to become full owner of the paper. Editors were screaming aloud of impending doom of the publication, even as NYT staff visitors attempted to reassure a skeptical editorial crowd in meetings that business would remain as usual for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the mother ship in New York was ever pondering what to do with their European child publication that was hugely popular, but not profitable.

Jimmy Buffett "selling" the IHT on the Champs Élysées 
after his 2007  interview for a feature article.

The NYT brand began to consolidate with the insertion of its name in the publication. Then came the death of as an autonomous website to become a mere page on I was working with the growing website at the time, and it was a blow to see everything taken out from under us. I’ve heard that the NYT since said this move was a mistake, but hindsight is not a luxury that journalists normally get to use.

I left the paper in 2009, then left Paris for the Netherlands in 2010, and I still think of the news room banter and the after-deadline beers at the nearby Le Village café.  I don’t believe I’ve ever met a more irreverent, pessimistic, smart, sarcastic and humorous bunch of professionals as in the IHT newsroom – and I am indeed glad that I did.

I suppose that authors of international thrillers may hesitate to reference the International New York Times as they have the IHT in numerous books. It’s just not as sexy as the Herald Tribune. And what about the luxury goods businesses that have been a pillar of IHT advertising and image? Are they going to hop on the NYT subway to continue their love affair?

I’ll still look for my online news from the same main sources, but it won’t be the same when I’m at a news stand and want to reach for the familiar name of the IHT. 

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