Saturday, 22 December 2007

International Herald Tribune - Devolution or Evolution?

Whether the International Herald Tribune has improved or regressed as a newspaper since the NYT took full control is a question open to debate. I come down on the former, but I found a excellent historical analysis of the IHT at Brazil Travel Blog by

Robb Mitchell, an arts producer from Minnesota, remembers reading the IHT in the 1980s when he was a graduate student in London, so he has a long term perspective on the paper's history and evolution, clearly dipping into it when he travels. (Another American traveller/traveler/expat reader btw just for the record.)

Here's what he had to say:

"Most people living in London [in the 1980s] picked up the IHT to get box scores for the Major League Baseball World series in October, the Stanley Cup playoffs (I recall reading about Minnesota's 18 players beating the Russians and going onto win a gold metal in 1980 in the IHT), or tracking NFL football. I read it for the unique perspectives of the IHT columnists.

Yet, even with its play to homesick Americans, in many ways in the 1980s the IHT was better than the New York Times. Based in Paris, many of the American reporters and columnists had a distinctive world view. Writers were ex-pats who could see America through a prism of intimately knowing the country they grew up in and loved, yet, through distant lenses being separated from American daily life. The IHT always was a forward line in understanding the world reaction to America and it policies with the eyes and ears of foreigners.

I must add, however, I was a bit disappointed to see the current IHT running columns by Paul Krugman, Adam Cohn and Howard M. Wachtel about the CIA tape destruction scandal, Hillary and Bill stumping in Iowa, and the weakening American economy while drinking my morning coffee in Sao Paulo.

These New York Times regulars aren't living the life of an American in Paris. The publishers are simply repurposing the content written for the New York Times instead of seeking to provide a prism other than that which can be obtained from the NYT. This might be a recent devolution in the IHT's distinctive reporting and analysis since the New York Times became whole owner of the IHT in 2007 by buying out its partners.

Let's hope the Times editors and publishers see the value of an alternative world view other than one directed out of New York and written by New Yorkers with little day-to-day life experience overseas."

I've blogged on the weakness of the IHT's op-ed pages before, and the problem that they don't run their own editorials (I think Rob may be under the impression that the IHT at one point did run its own editorials - it never did; it was WP or NYT or Boston Globe editorials, the BG being a NYT property).

But too many of the opinion writers are, if not NYT, America-based columnists, at least Americans. Vinocur (American in Paris) is still going strong of course, Cohen (a Brit) is a good new addition, but the basic argument Rob makes is a good one.

I've nothing against the likes of Krugman et al, but the IHT needs to balance this with more Vinocurs and Cohens.

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