Last November, the New York Times played hardball with the Washington Post
and forced the Post to sell its 50% share in the International Herald Tribune.
The conventional wisdom at the time was that the Times wanted to create what
was essentially an international version of itself (first New York, then America,
now the world!). And that’s precisely what has been confirmed by the rather
sad letter of
resignation sent out to all IHT journalists today by Peter Goldmark, its
outgoing chairman and CEO.
Goldmark obviously would like this letter to be taken as a courageous stand
against the monolithic powers on 43rd Street ("Believe me, I will pay dearly
for this, both financially and in other coin"). But in fact it reads more
as the death rattle of an anachronistic dinosaur.
Bemoaning the news that the IHT’s journalists will now report "exclusively"
to New York (what? there won’t be any editors in Paris?), Goldmark laments the
fact that "I am the last publisher of the IHT as an independent newspaper
with its own voice and its own international outlook on the world."
According to Goldmark, the IHT’s independence is a valuable commodity: "The
world needs more independent voices, not fewer. And at a time when the world
is growing to mistrust America, it needs thoughtful voices and independent perspectives
that see the world whole and are not managed from America."
But the world never considered the IHT to be an independent voice. It was owned
and run by Americans, and filled largely with copy from the two most important
American newspapers. It was indisputably an American voice – sometimes
with the slightly crusty air common to expats all over the world, but always
There is, of course, no shortage of thoughtful voices and independent perspectives
that see the world whole and are not managed from America. France, Germany,
Italy, Australia, Spain, the UK – even Canada – all of these countries
and many more have a vibrant press with an independent and international perspective.
What the world lacked, ironically enough, was a truly American perspective
on world events – a generalist counterpart to the Asian and European editions
of the Wall Street Journal. CNN International is a very different animal to
CNN in the US, and for all that the New York Times sets the agenda in the States,
very few people read it in Frankfurt, London, Paris or Tokyo. The IHT, with
its stale news and parochial fustiness, was no New York Times.
Even Goldmark admits that the status quo ante was untenable. Underfunded and
unloved, the IHT was an artifact of the 60s and 70s, when international travel
was still something glamourous and American expats appreciated a means of keeping
up with goings-on back home. When the baseball results were not available immediately
with the click of a mouse, it served something of a purpose. In the 21st Century,
it was little more than a resting home for Times journalists of a certain age,
curmudgeonly pipe-and-slippers types who were too fusty for anywhere else.
The Times has taken the obvious and sensible decision to leverage its unrivalled
editorial machine in New York and use it to beef up the IHT. With an increase
in investment and greater competitive drive, perhaps the Tribune will once again
become a newspaper that people read, rather than fondly remember. That won’t
"leave a big hole", it will fill it.