Times Subsumes

Herald Tribune ,

Once the romantic offspring of a dream power marriage, the International Herald Tribune is now the child of an ugly divorce. The New York Times has snapped up The Washington Post ‘s share of the Herald Tribune for a little less than $75 million, and as The Times expands its global wings, The Post is howling like a spurned spouse.

“The situation was maddening,” one Post source said.

” The Times felt that the [ Herald Tribune ] represented their next manifest destiny,” a source at the Herald Tribune said on Oct. 22, when the sale was completed. “This was the next field they had to conquer. We were standing in their way.”

No one was claiming that the Herald Tribune was what it used to be. But the sale still felt jarring. For 35 years, The Times and The Post jointly owned and published the Herald Tribune out of Paris. With its fresh dispatches from the United States, worldly cultural reporting and critically important Major League Baseball scores, the Herald Tribune was more than just a newspaper. Pre-Internet, pre-CNN, it was a lifeline to Americans abroad.

“The paper was part of your daily life,” said the former Post reporter and occasional Parisian Ward Just. “It was a kind of an organizing principle. The paper had a real personality. For people in Paris, it was almost like the New York Daily News . It covered Europe, but it had a real Paris flavor.”

Along the way, the Herald Tribune also emerged as a kind of cartel of the American journalistic elite. Produced by two of the country’s leading newspapers (and, for 24 years, Whitney Communications), it featured many of the country’s top reporters and columnists, many of them war-hardened veterans who considered Paris and the Herald Tribune a proper career denouement. The paper they produced was smart and the quintessence of class, and even if it sometimes read like Pravda for expat capitalists, it was always comforting-a reassurance to Americans that America persevered.

But now it’s over. And this breakup may give Johnny Carson a run for his money.

The Post feels it was strong-armed. An extraordinary memo sent out October 22 by Post co-chairman Donald Graham, publisher Bo Jones and executive editor Len Downie to editors and foreign correspondents claimed The Times essentially pushed The Post into selling.

“If The Post did not sell, The Times said it would start its own international edition anyway, intending to sell as many copies as allowed under the IHT partnership agreement,” the Post memo read. “The Times also said it would block any cash infusion into the IHT, which the partnership agreement would permit it to do.”

The Post management memo said the paper offered The Times alternatives to selling outright. The memo said The Post “offered to buy the Times share for the same price The Times offered to The Post. It also offered to place the IHT under Times business control and joint editorial control.

“The Times would not agree to either alternative,” the memo continued. “To address The Post’s concern about the IHT as an outlet for Post journalism, The Times did propose that The Post retain a minority interest for 15 years in an international edition managed and edited by The Times. This offer was declined by The Post because its senior editors believed such an arrangement to be unworkable journalistically.

“The Post,” the memo goes on to say, “would have preferred to maintain joint ownership and joint editorial control of the IHT with a cooperative co-owner.”

Reached on Oct. 22, Mr. Jones declined to comment specifically on the memo, but said: “It was clear to us that if we were to stay in the partnership, it would not be business as usual. This is not a happy decision. It’s just the only one we had.”

A spokesperson for the New York Times Company denied that the paper had in any way bullied The Post into a sale. “It was a mutually agreed upon decision,” the spokesperson said. “We thought the IHT would benefit from a sole owner. The sole owner works well in that position.”

The Herald Tribune showdown had been brewing for some time. Eyebrows were raised at The Post earlier this year when The Times began printing a weekly English supplement in the French newspaper Le Monde . While it was only supposed to last eight weeks, The Times restarted the arrangement in October.

“It was a slap in the face,” said one Herald Tribune source.

The Times spokesperson said the New York Times Company had no plans to change either the infrastructure of the IHT or to repackage it as an international edition of The Times . But according to several sources at the paper, The Times had already developed prototypes for the international edition.

Another Times source said that any international edition might only be temporary. According to the source, plans for The Times ‘ new newsroom (the paper is constructing a new building on Eighth Avenue) devote a significant amount of room to the operations of the paper’s NYTimes.com Web site. That Web operation would be big, “because eventually the Web site will take over the role of the IHT ,” the source said. The idea, the source said, would be to grow the brand internationally in certain locations. Eventually, though, The Times might scrap the international edition and begin charging international visitors to the Times Web site. (Domestic Times readers could still read the Web edition for free, the source said.)

Indeed, keeping the Herald Tribune brand alive in an era of Times -only ownership seems to make little sense, even to those at the Herald Tribune .

“If The New York Times wants to grow its brand internationally,” said longtime Herald Tribune scribe Mary Blume, “why would they do it through the International Herald Tribune ?”

Herald Tribune executive editor David Ignatius said: ” The Times has said that the paper can prosper better under a single owner. The tough question for The Times will be whether this paper will be the International Herald Tribune -or an international edition of The New York Times .”

Herald Tribune veterans hoped The Times would preserve the international name.

Recalling his days at the paper, former Herald Tribune executive editor John Vinocur said: “The Tribune remains an extremely strong brand. It has a certain romance to it. Its prestige has always been a two-headed kind of thing. It had great affection from Americans as an intelligent, honest newspaper. It is seen as a voice of the America that Europeans and Asians admire-not the stupid, close-minded America.

“I think this prestige is intact in a much more difficult environment,” Mr. Vinocur said.

Longtime Herald Tribune columnist Art Buchwald said: “I consider that my original paper, my hometown paper. I made relationships with people who read it abroad. In America, there were a lot of things that people could read. But over there, I had a lock on it.”

But for all questions and the melancholy about the Herald Tribune ‘s fate, there others who felt that its cultural high point-like its city’s-had passed.

“Paris meant a great deal more than it does now,” said former Times reporter Gay Talese, author of The Kingdom and the Power . “It was the cultural center of the world …. Paris was the place with books that were banned elsewhere. The literary press, the underground press had its heyday in Paris in the 1950′s.”

“Now,” said Mr. Talese, “Paris means nothing.”

Hoping to boost the paper’s coverage of technology, New York Times executive editor Howell Raines has enlisted the help of Katrina Heron, the former editor of Wired .

In his memo announcing the move, Mr. Raines wrote that Ms. Heron “will concentrate on technology coverage in the main news sections, including the Monday business report, the daily business report and the weekly Circuits and Science Times sections.”

So what does that mean?

“What that means is that I’m going to be part of an editorial team,” Ms. Heron told Off the Record. “It means I’ll be working with editors, working with reporters to try and strengthen The Times ‘ position.

“It’s mainly helping to tie together the efforts that are going on in San Francisco with what’s going on in New York,” she continued. “If you’ve ever worked in a bureau, communication is a worthwhile thing and make stories even stronger. People have already asked me what’s my agenda: ‘What changes are you going to make?’ Let me just say, any decisions will be made in a group effort.”

The gig’s only temporary, and Ms. Heron will remain based in San Francisco, where her family lives. Initially, she said, she’ll come to New York every three to four weeks.

For Ms. Heron, the consultancy role represents a return-albeit a short-term one-to 43rd Street, where she spent four years as an editor at The Times Magazine . In 1990, Ms. Heron signed on as an editor with Tina Brown at Vanity Fair , and shed followed Ms. Brown to The New Yorker two years later.

After becoming interested in the trial balloons being floated around Silicon Valley, Ms. Heron took of a leave of absence from The New Yorker to pursue a Knight Fellowship at Stanford.

Then, after occupying Wired ‘s top perch from 1997 to 2001, Ms. Heron began working with Internet pioneer Danny Hillis, a former vice president of research and development at the Walt Disney Company.

A good friend of Mr. Raines, Ms. Heron’s re-introduction to the paper had been talked about for some time. There was discussion about having her edit a special edition of The Times Magazine , but the role never materialized.

“That was discussed briefly,” Ms. Heron said. “It didn’t happen for a whole bunch of reasons. There were several discussions that took place in the initial efforts to try and figure out how to be helpful and effective.”

Asked if people really want more technology coverage in The New York Times now that e-anything carries a derisive mark, Ms. Heron said: “When I left Wired , people would ask me, ‘Are you leaving because the bubble burst?’ That had nothing to do with why I left. It’s really a much more important story than it ever was.

“Magazines like The Industry Standard , whose focus has been information technology and business, have obviously lost their currency,” Ms. Heron continued. “But the story, the big story which Wired was, is still out there.”

In just over six months, Bonnie Fuller has transformed Us Weekly from a sleepy, much-maligned picture-book magazine into every 26-year-old’s not-so-secret subway companion.

But in the process of chasing down Ben and J. Lo, Us Weekly ‘s staff has been driven bonkers by the magazine’s schedule. Closing sessions have reportedly run into the early-morning hours while staffers sit idle, waiting for their pages to come through.

But wait … here’s help! Though Ms. Fuller was unavailable for comment, Us executive editor Janice Min confirmed that the magazine has recruited an independent consultant to get Us staffers home-or to the Half King-at a reasonable time.

The task of helping the magazine better manage the clock belongs to freelance systems consultant Jodie Green, who once worked at Dennis Publishing.

“Our closes are significantly better,” Ms. Min said, explaining the move. “And we felt like we needed an outside set of eyes to find other ways to keep improving. She’s here to help us systemize more and take it from basically start-up mode into a more permanent way of doing things.

“The majority of the staff was home at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. last week,” Ms. Min added, “which is kind of awesome.”

 

POST smolders