Saturday, 8 December 2007

IHT Readers - Who Are You?

The worldwide circulation of the International Herald Tribune is about 242,000 last time I checked. What that means in readership is another question altogether, one that advertisers are always trying to work out, or rather, what their agencies are posturing at working out to justify their media buying fees.

The core readers of the IHT are the subscribers to the print edition, and daily visitors to

Both of those figures are kept carefully under wraps, probably because the numbers are rather low.

Back in 2000 the IHT had about 30,000 subscribers in the EMEA region. What we knew about these people then, other than their address and whether they were a student or not, was next to nothing.

A good chunk of that number was made up by the must-have subscription camp: embassies, large company reception areas, libraries, PR agencies and the like where the subscription wasn't so much for a reader but for a group of people who may or may not read the paper.

Another good chunk were free copies (of which I am, at least for now, still a beneficiary), mostly for employees, advertising agencies, clients and potential clients.

If we assumed about one third went to expatriate Americans, many of them retired, we were getting down to pretty low numbers.

My best guess is that the core subscriber readership of the IHT's print edition in the EMEA region, students, 'frees' and 'must have' corporate buys and American expats excluded, is around 7,000-10,000 people, very possibly less. If someone showed me data that revealed there were as few as 5,000 subcribers outside of the above mentioned categories I wouldn't fall off my chair in shock.

That's obviously not a figure anyone wants to investigate too closely, and certainly not share with the advertising community.

As to who these people are, leaving aside the conclusions of numerous readership surveys out there (which are pretty much worthless for reasons I might get into another time), is any one's guess.

I have a few ideas as to how we might find out, without any help from access to IHT internal data, and I hope to post on that in the coming days.

News Reporting and PR

On the subject of press releases (see my previous post) one thing that most people who don't work in PR or the media aren't fully aware of, is just how many stories that end up in one's newspaper are the direct result of a press-release from a company or organization to news outlets.

Most are round-filed but many are genuinely newsworthy: what should happen then is that the reporter widens the coverage of the story with background and information from sources other than Company X's press-release.

Taking as a case in point, CLP's announcement to cut CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour (Asian utility plans major emissions cuts; Friday, December 7, 2007).

There has been a token nod to unnamed other sources in paragraph 4 ('CLP's decision is especially noteworthy, energy experts said, because...') but the end of paragraph 6 it is evident that the article thus far is based largely on information contained in an advance copy of the announcement to be made by CLP CEO Andrew Brandler on Friday, December 7th, 2007. Obtained not by sleuthing but no doubt from CLP's PR company.

In paragraph 10, Frances Yeung from Greenpeace is quoted as saying it's all well and good cutting your emissions per kilowatt-hour, but if 'generate more power, then absolute emissions of carbon dioxide will increase'.

Then we have news, and indeed a photo of a Greenpeace-staged protest at one of CLP's coal-fired power plants on Thursday morning, with a photo from the European Press Agency. Again, it is doubtful that either the photographer from EPA or the author of the IHT article, Keith Bradsher, would have known about the Greenpeace protest without the help of the Greenpeace PR machine.

So by paragraph 11, Mr. Bradsher probably hasn't had to put in too much work to crack this story.

Now we come to the second alternative source on the issue, a report issued by Credit Suisse
reporting that mainland China's power consumption would continue growing by 11% to 14% a year for the next three year to five years. Issued on Thursday (everyone including CLP and Greenpeace trying to cash in on the climate change talks currently underway in Bali) this report from Credit Suisse also probably hit Mr. Bradsher's desk with a press release with the report's key points, coming from either Credit Suisse's internal PR department or from their PR agency.

Bradsher now picks up the phone for the second time, having probably rung the CLP spokesman earlier in the day just to get a quote not in the original CLP announcement in response to the Greenpeace press release about CLP (5 minutes work?), and rings up a contact of his at Standford University, and gets a couple of 'independent ideas' from him. (Earlier we had been told Bradsher had spoken with, or heard from energy experts - note plural - but the research fellow at Standford is the only one mentioned by name.)

That is the lot of most business journalists and they have a symbiotic relationship with corporate PR agencies. I'm not suggesting there is anything sinister here, simply that few readers perhaps fully understand just how these media/PR relationships work and how often the journalists are friends with, and socialise with, their PR contacts. If somebody from a PR agency speaks badly of a journalist they know, its probably a sign the journalist is a good one.

I would like to see any press releases used or quoted in an article, posted on line at next to the article (easy to do because the companies post these press releases themselves on their own sites, so only a question of a link).

Here's how it might look like:

The Business of Green - Company Promises

Individuals or states acting ahead of federal/state legislation on environmental issues is something the International Herald Tribune reports well.

The same is true of companies, and an excellent example is the announcement of CLP, one of the largest power companies in Asia, to 'commit itself to sharply reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, for every kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates'. This story was flagged on the front page under the Business of Green logo and appeared in the business section (Asian utility plans major emissions cuts; Friday, December 7, 2007).

The article got down to the nitty gritty of just what power generation means in terms of CO2 emissions, and provided exactly the type of global perspective I turn to the IHT for.

'CLP estimates that its operations emit 0.84 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. The company plan's call for it to cut emissions to 0.8 kilograms in 2010, 0.7 kilograms in 2020, 0.45 kilograms in 2035 and 02. kilograms in 2050.

By comparison, the Chinese power sector emits 1.01 kilograms per kilowatt-hour, the U.S power sector emits 0.64 kilograms and the Japanese sector emits just 0.35 kilograms, according to data from Carbon Monitoring for Action'.

Lots of companies are making lots of claims, announcements and plans, and this blog is also going to serve as my own personal track record of those promises.

I hope to be able to remind the IHT to revisit this story in 2010 (if the IHT still exists then - by no means certain; more on that another time) and see how CLP are getting on.

So many companies are making green claims it's hard to keep a track of them and the IHT advertising revenue is benefiting from this (see the full page advert from Exxon Mobil on page 11 of the same day's edition). I hope that editorial are keeping their own database of these claims and not let these stories run as worked-up press releases (not that this one did) and then be forgotten.

IHT Reader Interest in US Presidential Primaries

According to 'Europe speaks out on American politics' (Friday, December7, 2007) a poll conducted for the international news channel France 24 and the International Herald Tribune revealed that 'Europeans are only mildly interested in the election and know little about any of the candidates except for Clinton.'

Given the coverage of the US Elections 2008 by the IHT, each article literally flagged with its own logo consisting of an American flag and the strapline Elections 2008, IHT editors firmly believe that its international readership are more than mildly interested.

Indeed the front page from the same day's edition featured Republican nominee, Mitt Romney's speech in College Station, Texas addressing the tricky issue of his Mormon religious beliefs. (Republicans hopeful talks of his Mormon religion; Friday, December 7, 2007)

Back in the day, the extensive coverage of the American primaries, beginning at least 18 months before the actual presidential election, was seen by many on the business side of the newspaper as overly attentive, and disproportionate given the wider world news stories of the day and the interests of a diverse (that is to say, non-American) readership.

It didn't help that any young advertising agency media planner having a quick flick through the paper would only have his prejudices confirmed that the paper served its American expatriate audience first and foremost.

This perception/reality/prejudice, call it what you will, was, and perhaps still is, probably the single largest break on the IHT winning more advertising (that and the fact that most important international surveys of senior business people show that very few of them read the IHT, at least as compared with papers like the FT).

Personally I like the coverage of the US primaries - I find American politics perverse and intriguing, particularly as concerns funding, and whoever is the next President of the United States will have enormous implications for the entire planet, myself included.

The amount of column-inches dedicated to the primaries therefore strikes me as about right, but putting Romney's speech, with a picture of him, on the front page, before we have even had a single primary election, seems exactly wrong.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Beetle Bailey - is it at all funny, ever?

Editors are loathe to drop or add comic strips in newspapers - nothing produces a bigger postbag.

A while back the IHT tried to drop Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes but were forced to withdraw due to reader outrage. Both are now in endlessly looping re-runs. Peanuts I don't read, never have; Calvin and Hobbes I am a big fan of.

But Beetle Bailey? Does anyone find this strip consistently funny.

Example one: the strip from Thursday, 6th December, 2007. I can't even be bothered to describe it, but can this really be considered funny by IHT readers, and if so, who are you?

Beetle Bailey lovers - please step forward.

The Business of Green - us ahead of the State

An article about 'U.S ethanol lobby pushes for wider use' (Thursday, December 6th, 2007) reported Senator Bryon Morgan, Democrat of North Dakota, as saying that "in my state we've got 16,000 or 17,000 flex-fuel vehicles." But "we've got only 23 places where you can pull up and say, fill it up with corn".

This is something I am noticing more and more in the whole environmental debate and the IHT's coverage of the business of green - the individual being ahead of the industries that serve them, and ahead of state level legislation and infrastructure.

The IHT has recently reported on individual towns and islands leading the way on wind power, on California setting higher state emissions targets than federal ones.

In short bottom-up change is driving the debate and consumer practice, at least for now. We'll know we're in better shape when the State is ahead of the individual, but we're not there yet.

Commodoties - The Broader Business Perspective

An interesting article on U.S wheat futures ('U.S. wheat futures tumble after Egypt chooses Russia; Thursday, December 6th, 2007).

It prompted me to wonder what would happen if Arab states stop buying U.S wheat and others, perhaps encouraged by Chavez, stop selling oil and gas to the U.S.A, or decided to sell it in euros rather than pesos?

Hopefully Roger Cohen will look into this.

Perfectionism at the IHT

A fascinating article in yesterday's International Herald Tribune ('Perfectionism on a short fuse'; Thursday, December 6, 2007) reported on new research that 'focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things do not turn out just so. The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress...but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behaviour to addiction.'

I'm not sure I am or ever was a perfectionist - perhaps - but I've certainly had my share of mental difficulties, especially when working for the IHT.

If you work at the IHT, perhaps you could post your comments on whether any of the IHT's masthead employees - be they the publisher, on the editorial or the commercial side - fall under any of the following three types of perfectionist the article reports some researchers as having identified:

  • 'Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression'
  • 'Outwardly focused zealots who expect perfectionism from others, often ruining relationships'
  • 'Those desperate to live up to an ideal they're convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders'

Your comments and observations are welcome, and please feel free to include any NYT employee involved with the IHT, be they in Paris or New York.

Only books published in America welcome

Someone recently told me, describing the policy as completely irrational for the world's daily newspaper, that only books that have been published in the U.S.A. get reviewed in the International Herald Tribune.

This is apparently a long-standing, but unwritten, rule, said to be enforced by the guardian of the daily Books review, Assistant Managing Editor Katherine Knorr.

It's a ridiculous rule, bars thousands of good books being ever reviewed by the IHT, and is especially irritating given that the vast majority of the readership of the IHT is of course outside the U.S.A and that only a minority of them, wherever they live, are American.

It's time Mr. Oreskes re-examined this rule, and if he finds it reasonable, perhaps explains to readers why this is the case.

If you are a book publicist working in Europe or Asia and send books to be reviewed in the IHT, you should perhaps be aware of this. Great as it may be for the private libraries of members of the newsroom frequently able to pick up expensive hardbacks for free, it's not great for your publicity campaigns, even if you think the book you are promoting is perfect for the IHT readership.

If you are a book publicist who has continued to send books not yet published in the U.S.A to the IHT for review, and have been informed of this 'rule' in writing or by phone, I would be keen to hear from you at

Equally if you have continued to send in books for review that have not been published in the U.S.A and have NOT been informed of this rule, then I would be even keener to hear from you.

IHT Readers worldwide: did you know of this rule and what do you make of it?

A great IHT front-page

'r top story 4 2day, txt msgs r 15 yrs old' (Thursday, December 6, 2007)

It's difficult blogging about the International Herald Tribune without venting a bit about all the things one doesn't like, rather than the majority of things one does like about the IHT.

This bold, eye-catching headline story about the 15th anniversary of the beginning of text messaging is exactly why I love the IHT. I knew that text messages are a 'cultural phenomenon' but how and when it all started, or that it was 15 years ago with a simple message that read 'Happy Christmas', was fascinating, entertaining and just the sort of thing I read the IHT for.

Next to it, a photo-story of deforestation in Indonesia, a view of felled acacia logs alongside remaining natural forest in Riau Province, Sumatra, an image saying it all but more inside on page 6.

A great IHT front-page, only spoilt by the tabloid 'Dead man walking in the U.K.?' story at the bottom....

But the tabloids reported it first....

UK broadsheets have for a long time used the coverage by the tabloids of salacious, barely newsworthy stories, as an excuse to cover the same story themselves.

A good example of how this works is a story involving a UK prison guard, John Darwin, declared dead since 2003 after his mysterious disappearance in 2002 (supposedly drowned), turning up at a British police station 'fit and rested' after 5 years.

Is this front page material for the International Herald Tribune?

Apparently yes, because 'Britain's ever-alert, ever-cynical tabloids quickly dredged up some fishy details' (fishy?).

And thus the story received front page billing (1 of only 4 front page lead stories that day) on Thursday, December 6, 2007: 'Dead man walking in U.K.?'

Sara Lyall, the NYT's London correspondent is one of my favourite foreign correspondents, always with a good eye for the quirky and insightful stories from the UK that give readers an understanding of how that country ticks. But this is not one of them. It's simply a tabloid story, re-hashed and way behind the news curve (the BBC and the tabloids she referred to had been reporting the story since Tuesday) that offers no insight into the UK or a bigger picture about missing people in the UK. In fact Lyall couldn't even be bothered to find out how many people go missing in the UK each year, nor how many are ever seen again.

I am one of the biggest fans of the less heavyweight, more off-beat stories that have long been a tradition of the IHT's front page make up. But I had always been told that the point behind most of them is that they should have something to say about a wider social story.

A missing prison guard from Cleveland, England isn't such a story, especially when the story is played no differently than a UK tabloid. To insinuate that their coverage of the same story as somehow making the story front page material for the IHT is the stuff of the Daily Telegraph and The Times (London).

For UK readers of the IHT, it's a particular waste of time and space.

The IHT and Russia: Do as we say, not as we act.

The lead editorial in the International Herald Tribune of Wednesday, December 5, 2007 was headlined 'A tale of two strongmen' and was about the recent elections involving 'two of the world's most prominent and problematic authoritarian leaders', Putin and Chavez.

Putin, wrote the editorial, had 'cynically manipulated a huge victory' and it went on to say that:

'Putin's sales pitch in his phony parliamentary election was that he had brought Russia stability and global respect. A huge number of voters...bought it and looked the other way when Putin jailed his opponents and crushed their access to the media.'

There is no doubt the IHT's Supreme Luxury conference, held in Moscow the week before his phony parliamentary election, played a part in bringing Putin's Russia global respect, and the IHT looked the other way as Putin jailed his opponents and crushed their access to the media.

It's a pity that two of the world's most prominent and respected news brands (the NYT and the IHT) were willing to be so cynically manipulated; the disconnect between this editorial, the week after the IHT's Moscow conference, attended by the publisher and senior editorial staff of the IHT, is embarrassing for the newspaper and undermines its credibility, its greatest, perhaps only asset.

Conflict of Interest?

Avoiding conflicts of interest between the business and editorial sides of the International Herald Tribune has long been a vital, highly respected mantra at both the NYT and the IHT.

I haven't yet read the Executive Editor of the IHT's book, The Genius of America, written by Mr. Oreskes and Eric Lane, but as an IHT reader I certainly know all about it.

Firstly, if memory serves me, their was a recent opinion piece which referred to, and thereby promoted his book, and then earlier this week the book was reviewed by Robert. A Dahl.

The review was an interesting one, it certainly made me want to buy the book; but the question remains whether the book of an IHT editor or journalist getting significant play within the pages of the IHT constitutes a conflict of interest?

Regrettably, I would say yes, it does.

Just as a footnote to this, a senior ex-editor of the IHT read a book of mine, A Place in My Country, with a view to perhaps reviewing it. Despite kind words about the book, he said he would have to pass on submitting a review of the book to the IHT, because of the possibility of a 'perceived conflict of interest' - that is to say, he knows me personally, I used to work for the IHT and my book getting review coverage might undermine the credibility of the books section in terms of which books get reviewed and which don't.

If my tenuous link to the IHT could be seen by an experienced editor as having the potential for a conflict of interest, then what would he have to say about the editor responsible for the book reviews publishing a large review about her immediate superior's book? And a very positive one at that.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Curating the culture of style

Whatever one's opinions of the International Herald Tribune's new T magazine, lots of senior execs at the IHT are very pleased with it, not least of all because you had to wade through several pages of advertising before even coming across some editorial.

More on T another time (a great strapline btw - hats-off to whoever came up with that; giving a slightly academic and intellectual twist to things like handbags is no mean achievement and this strapline delivers that in spades), but two questions for now.

Why wasn't the IHT's commercial supremo, Stephen Dunbar-Johnson at T's launch party that the newspaper threw in Paris last weekend?

(NB A bit of Russian luxury conference cash around to splash and it seems parties are quickly back in vogue at the relentlessly cost cutting IHT.)

The Brit SDJ pleaded a long-standing family committment (taking his boys to watch the Barbarians beat rugby world cup champions South Africa at Twickenham) as the given reason, in a curiously read-out-in-absentia speech that might have been better off not being read if he wasn't there to make it himself.

His reason makes perfect sense to me, but it didn't to many of the American employees attending who a) don't understand rugby b) don't understand what fun a Barbarians match is and c) who probably don't understand that weekends are actually meant for symbols like this of the dangerously French, even European, pervasive anti-work ethic.

If a corporation wants to host a party, fine, but throw it at lunchtime on a weekday. (This type of anti-corporatist comment goes someway to explaining why I and the IHT had to part ways back in 2000.)

The second question is what exactly is the involvement of the IHT in T magazine, seemingly edited and art-directed from New York? More importantly, what makes it an IHT magazine and not a NYT one? Suzy Menkes can't be expected to carry the entire burden of the IHT's efforts with regard to this magazine can she? (Along with the circulation department who managed to deliver the magazine to me a full three days before the weekend it was supposed to appear.)

John Vinocur's French

"Politicus: As an agent of change, Sarkozy faces a big test" (Page 2, 4/12/07).

I like Vinocur, his writing, his gruff personality, the way he pops into frame in the classic documentary about Ali's 'rumble in the jungle' (so classic its name escapes me) and isn't shy of reminding people of this; I liked the 'lurid rumours' that used to circulate the IHT as to which president of France's wife he had had or was having an affair with.

He certainly knows the French ruling class well, understands how the country functions and his columns are always readable.

I wonder however if Sarkozy isn't going to prove to be a bit of a problem for Vinocur. If Sarko does prove to be 'as much a reformer as Thatcher' as Vinocur reports him as predicting, then this will be something of a train crash for Vinocur's central French narrative - the French are people with a pervavise 'anti-work' ethic aided by a moribund governing elites.

Vinocur's piece is terrific but as always he does forget that it isn't so much that the French are anti-work, but pro-play. Sarko is presented as the man who might slip them from the shackles of an anti-work ethic rather than allow them (Lord knows how) to make play less fun. Being anti-work and pro-play are not two sides of the same coin, and unless Vinocur lets drop his one dimensional presentation of French culture, his ability to cover the Sarko reform story is going to suffer.

It won't however be any less readable.

Chav, Celebrity Culture and the IHT

Speaking of Chavez brings me to 'chav' (as best as I can explain it to non-UK residents, the new English vernacular for 'bling').

Can anyone tell me why the front page of the world's daily newspaper deems it necessary to headline, above the fold, the story of a coked-out master of the universe sadly drowning in his swimming pool in the 'wealthy enclave north of West Palm Beach' Florida? ('A case of fast money and even faster living' Front Page, IHT 4/12/07)

Personally I read the IHT in large part because I want to avoid what a retired Oxford professor recently described to me as the 'pages of guff one has to wade through to get to any real news' (speaking of the UK broadsheets, not even the tabloids).

But somehow, through the intellectual cut and thrust of IHT news meetings, driven by the debate of senior journalists to establish truly the most important world stories of the day, with a bit of lighter 'trend' snap shot reporting normally thrown in (on this day, trucks getting stuck on small English rural roads because of sat. nav. addiction), the death of wealthy investment banker gets the IHT front page treatment.

A few details from the IHT story in case you missed your edition of the New York Post: the poor bloke concerned died not on Dec.3rd 2007, but Sept. 4th; the story involves 'private jets', 'black-tie balls' (their relevance to the story being?), an investment banker 'floating face down in the swimming pool' (good original writing thus far) screaming, 'sobbing', 'unfolding drama' (please), 'lurid accounts of fast money', 'murder', 'cocaine', binges, 'sex', 'Tobias' the 'male go-go dancer' and you guessed it, 'the plot thickened' (now really, that's enough).

"I don't understand why this hasn't ended up on 'CSI: Miami' yet," said James Cramer, the host of CNBC's stock-picking show "Mad Money"' the IHT breathlessly (no pun intended) reported.

I don't understand why this story ended up on the front page of the IHT. Perhaps it's all part of covering Supreme Luxury. I suggest Mr. Oreskes assigns Suzy Menkes to find out what Mr. Tobias' widow was wearing when she pulled her husband out of the pool at the 'mansion' and 'cradled his head in her arms'. (I am not making any of this IHT coverage up.)

The story is headlined as some sort of random case in a world of supreme luxury, but the opening sentence reveals that the IHT seems to be as enthralled with the celebrity culture their columnists and news coverage so often looks down on: it turns out that the investment banker wasn't just any old investment banker but 'a familiar face on CNBC'.

OK, right, that's fine then, all explained.

Which would seem to make this something of a first for the IHT in its recent history as far as I can recall: a celebrity front page story.


Putin and Chavez

This is an apolitical blog, as one hopes the International Herald Tribune remains an apolitical newspaper. By that I mean the IHT may have a left-of-centre feel to its editorials (as distinct to a cross-section of opinion and commentary) but one shouldn't be able to detect bias in its news coverage.

Which is why a four-column news story above the fold front page story headlined 'Voters deal Chavez a stunning rebuff' caught my eye.

On the same front page, also above the fold, above indeed the Chavez story, was a three-column photo with caption (Page 3 for more) with a picture of pro-Putin United Russia supporters happily marching in the Red Square celebrating 'Putin's' victory.

Despite Chavez losing in what was billed as a 'contentious referendum', the happy clapps go to a picture of a pro-Kremlin youth group, perhaps freshly decked out in Supreme Luxury. The caption of the photo reasonably notes 'Celebration and frustration in Moscow' but the picture story is one of unmitigated celebration.

Meanwhile the Chavez defeat gets the headline defeat billing and picture of a very frustrated looking President Hugo.

I guess the IHT Oil and Money conference isn't headed to Caracas anytime soon.

Russia and the IHT

Without a doubt, it is the IHT's hosting of a conference about luxury, in Moscow,the week before the elections the following Sunday 2nd December, 2007, which prompted me to start this blog.

Just to recall: pre- and post-elections the entire Russian national process was widely perceived to be unfair. What the IHT's very good coverage of the observer process (or rather failure thereof) explained was the central role that analysis of national media coverage of the elections and the campaigns plays in electoral observer missions.

Yet from Wednesday 27th November - Thursday 29th November, 2007, there was an international media brand of the prestige of the IHT, hosting in Moscow, a conference on 'Supreme Luxury'. Leaving aside how little supreme luxury most Russians live in, the question is this: how appropriate was it for the IHT to be running such a high-profile event, with the presence of their business editor, managing editor, publisher and even their executive editor, in association with many large Russian, pro-Kremlin companies, the week before such a contentious election?

Completely inappropriate. What was the executive editor of the IHT doing 'moderating' a panel discussion on the future of 'luxury' in Russia the week before the election? Key issues were: Where is the perceived luxury growth across Russia? Is St. Petersburg the next high-end destination? Or is the luxury playground of sea and ski the new center of attention?

Inappropriate because such a conference could naturally be played by Russian media, subliminally at least, as part of a sort of 'normalisation' of the elections the following Sunday. The international observers weren't present, but a news organisation of the stature of the IHT was.

That the conference should be on luxury of all issues (human rights, freedom of the press perhaps, if anything?) only compounded what was clearly a major error of judgement.

The reason behind this conference was of course money - or in this case Russian gas and oil dollars which is what funds luxury in Russia. Follow the money, and the IHT was willing to follow it all the way to Moscow the week before their national elections.

There was a time at the IHT when such an event would never have been allowed to take place in a country such as Russia, the week before an election.

Then there was a time when the commercial side of the church-state divide might have had the autonomy to do so, over-ruling undoubted objections from the executive editor had it been someone of Mike Getler's stature.

Now we arrive at a time when the conference, its theme, the high-profile brand presence of the IHT, all combined with the full editorial endorsement and even high-level participation of the newspaper's most senior editorial staff, is seen as perfectly acceptable behaviour on the part of the IHT.

And the word on the street is that the IHT's second most money making conference - Oil and Money - will be held not in London, but in Russia. The reason being given is that 'The Russians won't come to London' (that comment from one of the paper's most senior executives and not on the purely commercial side).

I bet they wouldn't. Some of them might have warrants served on them for murder.

When the paper you love is capable of such an enormous error of judgement, it's time to start blogging because I am yet to see any letters to the editor on this subject published in the newspaper.

Which edition of the IHT am I writing about?

Back in the day, there was one worldwide edition of the IHT. This meant that if you believed in such a thing as a community of IHT readers, you could be certain that what you were reading in Singapore was the same as your counterpart, friend or colleague in London.

This is no longer the case, with editions being separately prepared for Asia and Europe. The business thinking behind this was that there was not enough Asian news in the worldwide edition of the IHT, that the news was not timely and as a result the paper was unable to compete for readers, and hence advertisers, with the Asian Wall Street Journal.

I don't intend to get into this right now - whether those arguments were valid or not - but I can say I was intimately involved in the discussions that lead to the decision to print an Asian edition.

What I want to flag is that the edition of the IHT that I am bloggin about is perhaps not the one you are reading. This is because I am in Europe, and you might be reading the IHT in Asia.

In addition, there is more than one edition of the IHT available in Europe. In order to meet the deadlines in certain European countries for distribution, the paper I receive here in rural France is not the final edition of the newspaper but one printed for distribution by the French postal system, a system that has a special delivery to ensure postal delivery of newspapers on Day A (day of publication). Hence what I am commenting on is not the edition that is hand-delivered in Paris, but an edition printed earlier.

How much variation there is between these various editions depends. Clearly if there is a late breaking story of major import, the front page of my edition may be very different from the final edition. There are meant to be significant differences between the various Asian editions (Japan and one edited out of Hong Kong) and the European (also known as the Atlantic) edition, especially since early printing in Hong Kong (when that did not deliver significant boosts in circulation, readership and advertising) was complemented by the opening of an Asian editorial office in Hong Kong. (What positive changes that move created is also something we can come back to, but certainly the extra workload created by the move from one to multi-editions for IHT employees in Paris, was, and continues to be, a source of much newsroom moaning.)

So if my comments about the paper don't match with the paper you are holding in your hand, that's the reason.

As to , I hope, in the fullness of time to come to that, but at least for now I am only going to be blogging about the Atlantic (early) edition of the IHT that I receive here in rural France.

Letters to the Editor - what's the point?

The editor of the IHT has four primary sources of feedback from readers: letters or emails addressed to Mike Oreskes but not intended for publication; letters to the Editor intended for publication and perhaps not even seen by the editor; comments returned by subscribers when renewing or cancelling their subscriptions and last but not least, direct face to face contact with IHT readers.

When I left the IHT in 2000, letters or emails addressed to the editor and not intended for publication were not shared on a systematic basis with senior executives of the newspaper, editorial or commercial, not even the publisher and naturally not readers. The editor carefully guarded any comments that came his way, and for reasons we could only speculate on, did not provide a monthly internal summary of them or simply circulate them to the executive board of the newspaper. I am unaware that this has changed, although it might have: editors in general rather like to safe-guard their somewhat privileged access to reader feedback, the good often disseminated, the less flattering 'round-filed'.

A system for providing the editor with a monthly report from the subscriptions department of comments received by it - comments most often written on the back of renewal notices (negative generally when not renewing, positive when renewing) - was in place, set up in 1996 for the then editor Mike Getler. However, as I understand it, this is no longer the case. (The subscriptions customer service department is now largely in Hong Kong.) That is to say, if you are an IHT subscriber, and you include comments or a letter/note to the editor when you renew your subscription, the chances are that neither the editor, nor anyone of any import, will ever read it.

As to letters to the editor, sent for publication, very few are printed on a daily basis - typically 3-5 - and most are dedicated to commenting about what is in the news, rather than the way the news has been reported. The selection of which letters are published is the responsibility of the editor of the opinion/editorial pages. What's interesting to note is how frequently certain regular letter writers to the IHT are published. A search on one Frank Peel of Geneva, Switzerland for example, not only reveals a remarkable hit-rate for his letters' publication in print, but also how he uses this for his own self-promotion. Does Mr. Peel have some special relationship with the editor of the opinion pages, is he an outstanding letter writer or are there in fact rather few letters sent to the editor for publication, narrowing the choice somewhat? (A typical refrain from those who work on Op-ed pages is the poor quality of English used by people submitting pieces for publication.)

Finally then, there is the editor's social and professional network. Mr. Oreskes, the editor of the IHT is an American in Paris, and if he is a reflection of many of the IHT's editorial staff working in Paris, he most likely most frequently socializes with other expatriates, often Americans. On a professional level, his work takes him to conferences and speech events where naturally the audience is also rather self-selecting - the high level 'C Suite' executives who attend such events as Davos or, for example, the IHT's conferences. One can argue whether these people do or do not represent the core readership of the IHT; indeed one can argue as to what is the core readership of the IHT, but the point to be made is that his contacts with IHT readers are probably limited in scope and type.

Hence we arrive at this blog: a place where your comments about the IHT - good or bad - can be read by readers, indeed anyone. Uncensored and freely available to all. Open source letters to the editor.


IHT Readers is a blog for readers, employees, advertisers and anyone interested in the Paris-based newspaper, The International Herald Tribune (owned by The New York Times).

You might call it a fanzine, because I am a daily addict of this newspaper. Gilles, my local postman, delivers it Monday - Saturday (distribution all being well) on what is known in the newspaper business as Day A, despite the fact I live in an extremely remote part of the Auvergne in rural France. (Something the IHT was unable to offer when I lived not more than one hour's drive from Heathrow Airport in rural England - there I was lucky if received my copy of the IHT on Day B; more frequently it was Day C, and sometimes never. More on that another time.)

I want to write about the IHT, to praise it, to critique it and to hold it to the standards that the newspaper itself proclaims, both as a New York Times property and as part of its long heritage.

My motivation is simple: I love the IHT, I believe it to be the best newspaper in the world and I would be lost without it as my primary source of world news, news analysis and opinion. Thus I have a vested interest in it succeeding and continuing as a viable business interest.

As a primary stake-holder in the newspaper - a reader (full disclosure: I receive it for free as an ex-employee of the IHT) I do not however have any influence in shaping its content, direction or future success. I could write regular letters to the owner, publisher or editor of the IHT, but I would like to create a public space where other readers and IHT stake-holders can share their views on the newspaper.

I'm not sure how frequent my postings will be, nor their content, but I do hope to open this blog to as many IHT stakeholders as possible, in particular readers. My strong guess is that there is a hardcore of IHT readers who are as addicted to the newspaper as I am, who have strong views on the paper and would like a space to share those views.

Obviously, I hope that this blog will be read by readers and other stake-holders, but also that some of the ideas and comments will be reflected upon -even acted upon - by those with the ability to direct the content, direction and operations of the newspaper itself - its journalists, editors and senior commercial management; and not least of all - its owners The New York Times.

Were the IHT to openly publish on their own web site ALL letters sent to the editor (the rantings of the mentally ill, which all newspapers receive, excluded), rather than the very few which are published each day in the print edition, then this blog may no longer serve any purpose.

Indeed, that issue itself is perhaps where I should begin.