Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Global Edition of the New York Times and the missing Dingbat

I haven't wanted to rush to judgement on the latest changes, but I think two emails from many I have received from readers of the IHT best capture the concerns:

a) the IHT is NOT the global edition of the NYT, but a paper with its own identity and character;
b) character and history and independent (non-NYT) columnists count for something.

Here then are two examples, firstly from Rolf:

"So any reaction on the "fresh nameplate" shown Wednesday, May 21, -- International Herald Tribune -- The Global Edition of The New York Times"?Is this why Michael Oreskes is leaving -- the new dominance of the IHT by its owners.The IHT is NOT the NYTimes, it has its own historic identity."

And from OPL
"The dingbat has appeared on the front page of the IHT and its NY Tribune predecessor for almost daily for ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY TWO YEARS (142).

Can you imagine the Times of London without their dingbat (or whatever they call it)?!

The internet has been around for just over 10 years--and they're doing this for digital-friendliness...Like I said on the IHT Developer Blog, I'm concerned at the fact the NYT is just slowly accustoming us (its audience) to the change to the NYT-Global Edition brand. (Waiting for the IHT readership to die out?!)

The IHT is looking more and more like a spinoff of the NYT and less and less like a standalone paper with its own international perspective.

Maintaining the IHT's identity--through its brand, history as well as investing in exclusive resources--does not seem to be a priority for the NYT.

Loss of character = loss of sales, no? (Unless theres a big enough pool of people who enjoy the anonymous-ness of much of the IHT Business with Reuters section that is slowly taking over the paper.)

The paper's heart and soul lie in many elements that include the dingbat, the city of Paris, the exclusive columnists who make the IHT unique (who've included Buchwald, Wells, Abt, Zwerin, Vinocur...).

P.S Anyone remember the dingbat "explosion" animation in an IHT ad campaign from a couple of years ago? Surely IHT marketing folks saw value in it then?"

My reaction to these types of emails, of which I have had quite a few?

Firstly, people have been very hung up on the dingbat issue, and have completely failed to spot, or not commented on, the many other myriad design changes. Frankly, I think these people are in a minority - those worried about the dingbat. The dingbat has been changed many, many, many times during the history of the paper, and frankly I found it archaic, irritating and nationalistic. Its departure hasn't made a bag of beans of a difference to me. The iconography of the IHT lies in the type face of the words Herald and Tribune on the masthead.

Plus, despite the above mentioned effort to use the dingbat in an ad camapaign (which frankly I never saw which speaks volumes for the effectivenes and budget of the IHT's curent advertising), speaking as an ex-marketing director of the paper, I can tell you it was more of a nuisance than an advantage. Lots of newspaper with dingbats in their mastheads have dropped them in their marketing, perhaps most famously the FT.

The IHT does however have hundreds of newsstands around the world, and POS marketing racks etc with the old masthead. I very much doubt that they are going to remplace them all in one go because the NYT are trying to transform the IHT on the cheap, and they can't afford it. This hasn't been a rebranding exercise that ANY non-IHT reader would notice - non-readers who will continue to see the old masthead wrapped around kiosks in central London for years probably, getting dirtier and shabbier as each day goes on, and still with the old dingbat.

Which is a bit odd, because usually the whole point of making a major rebranding and redesign effort is to generate PR and controversy and attract non or only occassional readers back to the IHT.

That the IHT haven't done this, and I stand to be corrected, is because:

a) they haven't the money on their own P&L for this type of thing, when breaking even is THE GOAL.

b) the NYT won't invest for that sort of marketing in the current climate. In fact, I always predicted it would take the NYT about five years to work out they had overpaid for an asset that was in terminal demographic ageing decline, and sooner or later would work this out, and either sell it, or start investing serious money. (The latter being, happily more likely, having strapped the reputation of their brand all over the 'new;' IHT.)

c) the IHT is more worried about holding onto existing readers - and not alienating them - than attracting a declining pool of newspaper readers in Western Europe and the USA, if not in Asia, South America and the Indian sub continent where newspaper circulation is growing

As to NOT being a spin-off of the NYT, and not having its own traditions and historic identity, this really isn't about the dingbat.

It's about the staff of the IHT in Paris - and critically being in Paris, or A.N Other global capital; Brussels or Shanghai might arguably be better and cheaper - who chose stories from the wires and the NYT/Boston Globe resources, and whether THEY have an attachment to the idea of an independent newspaper with its own global outlook, traditions and historic identity.

It's not a question of the old readers dieing off (althought that would help) before the NYT make their move, it's a question of a generation of copy editors, and indeed senior editors, who are frankly, in some cases, stick-in-the-muds.

What concerns me are a number of more important issues, because, the reality is that the debate over where the content comes from is for now over: it's NYT, heavy reliance on AP as ever, and Reuters for business PLUS an INCREASED number of IHT staff reporters.

OK, the paper lost the WP content which was a blow, BUT, the facts are the IHT has more staff reporters on its books than at any time in its recent history.

If the editors Oreskes, Smale and Alderman know how to deploy those staff resources smartly, I see no reason why calling the paper The Global Edition of the NYT should make the slightest bit of difference. And right now, from what I can tell, that seems to be the case.

Plus I'm finding the Reuters business coverage quite excellent, and much better than what we had before, which relied too much on non-business wires, and in an environment when not nearly enough NYT bureaus ever consistently covered business.

Is Oreskes leaving Rolf?

That's the scuttlebut for sure, but if he is, it certainly isn't because of the 'new dominance' of the IHT's new owners. Oreskes - a 100% NYT man - was that dominance personified, and he was sent to Paris with, inter alia, on his brief to merge the resources of the two newspapers.

Therein lies the rub: if Roger Cohen or Tom Friedman were appointed the next editior, or even Daniel Altman, and were allowed to select the stories of the paper themselves (as Oreskes is today) then you could have an absolutely incredible newspaper.

Having a number of Brits working there, including Alison Smale, Cohen of course, has already profoundly aided the international perspective of the IHT.

But if the next editor is the next person to be passed over in NY and is given the IHT as the consolation prize, then the paper is in trouble.

Every time there is a new editor, even if back in the 1960s, 70s or 80s they had a stint in a foreign bureau of the NYT or WP, they arrived with no language skills, and the typical parochial vision of people who have never lived the lives of most IHT readers - multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-lingual people who have lived and worked on the front lines of globalization before anyone even came up with the word.

They won't go for an editor from outside the NYT simply because of content supply/organisational issues - the editor needs to know how the NYT works.

But they could hire from within - promote - the IHT and perhaps skip a generation and bring up fast a much younger, more dynamic, more cosmpolitan person as editor.

SDJ, the publisher, if if you look at his career, his French wife, where he has lived and worked, that he is not American, IS an IHT reader of exactly the age and demographic one (advertisers and engaged ambitious journalists) wants to talk to.

Mike Oreskes absolutely is not: older, American, without much international experience taken as a part of the whole of his career.

I think the biggest structural flaw in the paper today remains, without doubt, the op-ed pages.

Firstly, I have long felt the IHT should have its own editorials. It doesn't, and now with the Global Edition of the NYT thing, this seems even less likely.

But that is only a matter of vanity and ego - wishing to project the NYT editorial voice overseas.

I cannot see why, if they are prepared to frequently run editorials from the Boston Globe, another NYT property, they won't allow the IHT to write its own editorials.

Cost is probably a block, but the Boston Globe editorials put a big full stop NO to the idea of saying the global edition of the NYT can't carry IHT editorials.

Secondly, there just aren't enough columnists on the op-ed pages that are IHT.

So all columnist voices are American, or Anglo-American in the case of Cohen.

This just clearly doesn't make sense for a global newspaper.

It might make sense for a global edition of the NYT, but it doesn't make sense for the global readership of the IHT, unless the assumption is that we only want to hear American voices. We don't.

We want to hear other voices other than the voices of our national press, but where is the IHT, or even for that matter, NYT columnist in Asia. We have Howard French (excellent) but he is an Asia/China specialist on Page 2, not a columnist.

What the IHT badly needs are two regular columnists, writing on global affairs, one from Africa, and one from Asia for example. (Let's for now take Cohen as a sort of psuedo rep. for Europe). Surely we can dispatch with the services of the tedious, repetitive, American domestic politics obssessed Dowd for example and free room for someone else?

Cost however, and modesty of ambition, remain the key problems for the IHT and its owners, the NYT.

As they fiddle, procastinate, and worry about their share price, they are delaying investing in the paper and making it the world's daily newspaper.

Attack, is what they need to do, boldly and with lots of money.

I'm not sure NY has the balls for it, nor appreciates that steady drip feed cash injection will only result in death anyway, so why not go for it?

In conclusion, does calling the paper the Global Edition of the NYT pose a problem?

No, if you accept the premise that the global edition of the NYT is not a condensed version of the NYT national edition.

Yes, it's a huge problem if that's your goal and you seriously think it will fly internationally. It won't.

It would be like the FT simply publishing its London edition, in condensed form in Asia, Continental Europe and the USA. Which of course it doesn't and has been very succesful.

As to the dingbat, it is a matter of no consequence to me and I am indifferent to its departure.

Most regular readers of the IHT, I bet, if I asked them today, couldn't accurately describe it to you if you asked them to, nor explain the significance of the imagery nor even know that 'thingie' on the masthead is even called a dingbat.

What they haven't addressed on the masthead is the far more important problem, dating from the 1960s when the word International was joined to Herald and Tribune.

Until it doesn't read to NON readers as the Herald International Tribune, or the Herald Tribune,
they wont be able to effectively market this newspaper to non readers, who if they know about it, normally call it the Herald (if French/Belgian/Swiss/more Latin European countries) or the Herald Tribune (Germans/Brits etc) or the Trib (if American/loyal readers).

Removing the dingbat might tighten the gap between calling the paper either the Herald or the Herald Tribune; it won't help people call it the International Herald Tribune (which as our Asian marketing colleagues will tell you, is a hell of a mouthful if English is not your mother tongue).

IHT works as a url - very important - and for the NYT it is lets people visit the international edition of the NYT and lets Americans overseas, or those interested in the U.S.A., still visit www.nytimes.

What they could and should do on both sites, is offer readers the choice of the international edition ( or the domestic one (www.nytimes) when arriving at their site.

This is exactly what the BBC does with its news site, offering the chance to set your preference to not only low graphics and high graphics, but UK or International. Not rocket science.



Vice Versa on the home page of the IHT re. the NYT.

This clearly is a joke, and just chronically intellectually lazy silo thinking given that both newspapers and websites are owned by the same company, so who gives a damn where the reader or revenue goes?

What then does all this tell us?

That calling the IHT the global edition of the NYT is frankly window dressing, more about internal cost savings and processes the reader couldn't care less about.

Is it the road to the International New York Times? Perhaps.

Is that the right road to take?

Where is the greatest brand equity for either the INYT or the IHT?

Where is there the greatest growth for newspapers?

And which brand has the most equity there?

I'd say the NYT, for countries where newspaper growth is at its greatest, the IHT for Western Europe, but you'd be taking a killer hit in your developed markets if the paper didn't retain the spirit and content and non-Manhattan vision of the IHT.

That's where the real brand equity lies, not in the name.

Perhaps, but that's enough free advice for today I think (they still won't talk to me or invite me up for a chat; I'm still like a love sick dog.)

By the way, since everyone knows who I am now, please feel free to explore or which many IHT readers may find particularly interesting in terms of how I don't follow the typical vertical information hierarchies of newspapers.

(I'm not doing a full edition of the IHT as I would like it laid out, but you'll get the general idea.)


1 comment:

Rolf said...

Wow! Thanks again for your thoroughness -- that was great. (I was derelict on finding all the comments about the global NYT and other masthead changes.)
I sure hope they keep the IHT brand, but your suspicion is probably correct.