The Herald Tribune disappears in a puff of cigarette smoke
Mark Thompson claims only the title is changing: but for Americans who love Paris it was an icon
THERE is nothing quite like starting a day in Paris at a congenial café table, ordering coffee or something stronger, and settling down behind a copy of the International Herald Tribune.
Just the thought of it is enough to plunge generations of American travelers into their own private versions of Woody Allen’s 2011 nostalgia fest, Midnight in Paris. The Trib is an icon.
But yesterday was its last day. From today, when in Paris – or Rome or Moscow, for that matter – we will be opening the International New York Times, which is not quite the same thing.
You could argue that the IHT began the trend to media globalisation to which it is falling victim. It was founded in 1887 by newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett as an international edition of his New York Herald Tribune, then America’s biggest and most profitable newspaper.
Bennett was among the first wave of Americans in Paris, the wealthy of the Gilded Age seeking European sophistication. They needed an English-language source of news, he reckoned, and he exploited the brand-new technology of the telegraph cables running below the Atlantic ocean to give it to them.
Bennett combined news transmitted from New York with stories from his own staff in Paris. Later, he actually had his newspaper flown hot from the Paris presses to London in time for the morning rush, like coals to Newcastle.
It was known as the Paris Herald by the time the American love affair with Paris reached its height between the wars with the Lost Generation. “America is my country and Paris is my home town,” declared Gertrude Stein.
Ernest Hemingway, novelist and protégé of her fabled salon, created the very image of the sophisticated traveler with his copy of the Paris Herald in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.
His alter-ego and narrator Jake Barnes, returning from Spain, immediately buys the Herald and settles down to read it at the café with a glass of wine. Countless Americans, with or without white beards, have followed his example.
To commemorate its passing yesterday, the New York Times unearthed an album of iconic photographs of Americans abroad reading the Trib: Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King, President Kennedy.
It also ran a still from the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film, Breathless, which defined an epoch in France: Jean-Paul Belmondo, the gangster star, a Gauloise dangling from his lip, approaches Jean Seberg on the banks of the Seine as she is selling the New York Herald Tribune. She is even wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the title.
The French have got used to it. That the raison d’etre of the Trib was to bring the English language despised by the French to their City of Light was an irony not lost on the newspaper itself.
On 1 April 1959 – April the first – the Trib ran an editorial headlined ‘Ici On Parle Anglais’ which went on to discuss the French campaign to preserve French by expunging English words. It pointed out that despite the heights of Gaullist pride, the two languages were hopelessly intertwined.
It concluded: “If all French words were expunged from English, and English from French, we might have nothing left to do but sit and stare at each other in complete silence. Perhaps we’d better leave things as they are for a while. D’accord? OK?”
In 1957, Art Buchwald, New Yorker–in-exile and the Trib’s resident humourist, had tackled that other thorny European issue: ’Why Do They Dislike Americans?’
Among the reasons: “Our correspondents felt American tourists had few social graces and they objected to Americans ‘taking moving pictures of them’, ‘throwing around money’, ‘talking loudly’, ‘bragging about the American way of life’ and, in two cases, ‘smoking in restaurants without asking permission of the other diners’.”
Is this the end of the Herald Tribune? Can an “international” edition of a newspaper which is already a “global brand” online keep alive the spirit of the Herald Tribune? Probably not.
As sole owner and for the most part sole provider of the news in the IHT for the past ten years, the New York Times argues that all that is changing is the title.
The idea has come from neither a New Yorker nor a Parisian, but an Englishman: Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general who arrived at the Times last autumn as its president and chief executive.
His rationale? “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.”
So Americans in Europe will sit at their café tables absorbing the content of one of the “best-known news providers”, mostly on their tablets and smart-phones. Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t know which way to turn. ·