By: James Oliver Goldsborough
It was inevitable that The New York Times would do away with the International Herald Tribune, successor to the Paris Herald Tribune, of which it became part owner in 1966. After all, the New York Herald Tribune was the Times’ hated competitor for decades, both at home and abroad. The Times, which eliminated The Washington Post from Herald Tribune ownership 10 years ago, says the name change has something to do with “digital subscribers,” who will be better served by what is now called the International New York Times.
Are digital subscribers really so obtuse? Why didn’t Rupert Murdoch change the names of the Times of London, New York Post or Wall Street Journal into News Corp. or Fox News when he bought them to satisfy his digital subscribers? In these perilous newspaper times, it makes sense to respect the names that connect us to the origins of great journalism, names that for decades, even centuries, have been instantly identifiable.
I have nothing against the New York Times. It is a great newspaper. So was the New York Herald Tribune, which had one of the great journalistic staffs of all time. But the Times and Herald Tribune were always separate and distinct and deserved to remain so. The Times beat the Herald Tribune in New York, but the Herald Tribune was the better paper in Paris, where it existed for 126 years compared to the Times’ six.
The Times has treated Herald Tribune’s legacy as the communists do photos: Don’t like Leon Trotsky standing beside Stalin or Liu Shaoqi beside Mao? Erase them; Kim Jong-un turns against his uncle? Air brush uncle out. Alter history.
Any American traveling in Paris in the late 19th or early 20th centuries came across the Paris Herald at one time or another. It was available in the same kiosks on the Champs Elysées and along the Seine as the latest article in L’Aurore by Émile Zola or the newest installment by Marcel Proust in his never ending search for lost time. The Paris Herald, founded in 1887, belonged to Paris as much as Zola or Proust.
In the 1920s—that brief, giddy, Lost Generation interlude between world war catastrophes—Americans began to find the Herald not just in Paris but across Europe as well. The Herald was the one way, the only way, to stay in touch with things American. In 1928, it became the first newspaper to be distributed by air, with daily planes to London. The Times was hardly known abroad.
James Gordon Bennett, Jr., founder of the Paris Herald in 1887 and son of the founder of the New York Herald, died in Paris in 1918, but there was never any question of scrapping his newspaper. In 1924, with the merger of the New York Herald and New York Tribune, the Paris Herald became the Paris Herald Tribune and moved from the cramped Rue du Louvre to the Rue de Berri, off the spacious Champs Elysées. In all those years, the only break in publication came in the early 1940s. But Hitler was soon gone from Paris and the Herald Tribune was back to the Rue de Berri.
From Bennett, the editor who sent Henry Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone in Africa in 1871,ownership passed to the Reids of New York and then to Jock Whitney, also of New York. As the American presence in Europe grew in the 1950s, the Paris Herald Tribune could be found everywhere in Europe, including in Communist East Europe, though behind the Iron Curtain it was kept under the counter, and the KGB tended to watch those who asked for it.
Naturally, it attracted imitators. The Wall Street Journal planned and canceled a European edition in the early sixties. The New York Times launched its Paris edition in 1961 but lacking the Herald’s cachet, name and history, was never successful. In 1966, when union strikers forced the New York Herald Tribune to close its doors, the Washington Post bought into the Paris paper, having the good sense not to change the name to the International Washington Post.
In 1967, the Times admitted failure, closing its money-losing Paris newspaper and buying a minority interest in the joint Whitney-Post Paris paper, and hating every minute of it. The new paper was the International Herald Tribune, which had great success for 36 years before the Times strong-armed out the Post and another 11 years before the Times air-brushed it from history.
This act of journalistic hubris and contumely should not pass without recognition for a great American monument: the Paris Herald. It was as much America’s gift to France as the Statue of Liberty was France’s gift to America. It should not be allowed to disappear without a moment of remembrance and mourning.
James Oliver Goldsborough is author of the recently published novel, “The Paris Herald,” from Prospecta Press. Contact him at jamesogoldsborough.com.