Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thoughts about the International Herald Tribune

The International Herald Tribune has a new editor, or will this summer – Michael ORESKES. I do not know him personally, but have heard very good things about him.
He has a formidable task.

The incumbent – Walter WELLS – is a fine journalist and a great editor who has served the IHT well over the bulk of Walter’s career. He and his wife, the legendary Patricia WELLS of cooking fame, have had a big impact on the lives of many and have shaped the thinking and stomachs of thousands and thousands of people. I hope they will continue to do so!

Usually a piece about the Trib talks about its circulation numbers, or its ownership, or its innovations in the global publishing world, and sometimes about its content.

I want to talk about the IHT as a customer.

My first trip overseas was in the late 1960s, but I remember another Herald Tribune in New York where I was born and grew up. For me, the IHT will always associate a part of itself with that city, and now with its full owner, the New York Times Co.

But it is Paris where I most feel the link to the Trib and what it conjures up in me.

Frankly, the internet now becomes an unavoidable lens through which I see the paper. Each day in North Carolina or in Nice, or wherever I may be, I receive an e-mail summary of top stories in the IHT. It is free, and I look at it every day. Often, what it tells me about are stories that I have already read in the NYT, but I relish finding something there that I am seeing only because I consider myself an ongoing IHT customer and get the e-mails!

Did I receive an e-mail from them today telling me of the new editor? No. But I did read it in the NYT.

As I travel around, it is not the IHT that I seek in the morning; it is my computer and a link to the internet.

I still enjoy the feel of the paper when I am overseas but my obsession with reading it has drifted down to it being something interesting to consume at a French or other country café or on an airplane where the paper is free, if available.

Newspapers are often much more expensive overseas than we pay here in the US. The IHT is no exception. With the dollar/euro exchange rater, I pay almost 2 USD for the paper in France. Anything over a euro or a dollar gets my attention.

While I buy the local paper in France (Nice), I seldom buy the IHT. I may look at its front page on the newsstand, but I buy it now less than 10% of the time.

Do I still associate good things with the IHT?
Yes, including credibility. I have high confidence that what makes its way into the Trib is both important and accurate. This is true whether it comes from the NYT, another sources, or is written by the small IHT staff in Paris, and a few other people elsewhere.

But, somehow, it is just not enough to prompt me to fork over all that money.

Could the IHT make me more committed? Yes. And it does so in Lebanon.

There, it is packaging that does it. The local partner, the Daily Star (independent and very good) prints the IHT and its own paper in such a way that the first section is the Star and the second section is the Trib. It is more than the latter inserted in the former. Just a few adjustments, additions and a splash of color tie the two together.

For me it is the best of all worlds – quality local news combined with quality national and international coverage, with a special link to the US.
This model, with the same partner extends to other countries in the Middle East/Gulf region.

I hope it spreads more widely. I want to feel again that I “need” to buy the IHT today.

In Ireland, it was often said that if you failed to buy the Irish Times – a large format newspaper of highest quality chock-a-block full of great writing – on any given day, you would miss the world. The Times has done a great job of covering Ireland AND the world.

It is also said that if you do sit down to read the Times on any given day, you will lose a week in so doing!

I am not sure the IHT should aspire to that level, but it should and can become a more essential – “can’t live without” – newspaper in the lives of hundreds of thousands people around the world.

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