Tuesday, 10 June 2008

IHT/NYT identity crisis.

I'm a little confused, in the new order of the Global Edition of the NYT, who exactly works for who, and who gets to be called what. In particular I am talking about journalists.

New York Times journalists and IHT journalists are no longer distinguised within the paper. Yet online, articles by NYT journalists are clearly described as such, ditto articles by IHT journalists being described as being by IHT journalists.

Now we come to an Opinion piece run under the heading 'The Fulbright Seven'.

To quote it:

After reporting in The International Herald Tribune by Ethan Bronner drew high-level American attention, top State Department officials intervened to restore the students' Fulbright fellowships that lower-level functionaries had notified them would be withdrawn.


Now, Ethan Bronner works for the NYT, not the IHT, so techincally, that would be 'after reporting in the NYT by Ethan Bronner'......

And if the IHT is the global edition of the NYT, why the misleading suggestion from the above piece that it was reporting in the IHT, as opposed to say the NYT, that resulted in the intervention of State.

Clearly, what we have here are some inconsistencies that need ironing out, but perhaps most baffling is why http://www.iht.com/ continues (to my mind usefully) to differentiate between NYT and IHT journalists, and the print edition doesn't.

And the ironing out is coming.

I was reflecting on a recent posting I made about how the BBC online news service offered two editions - a domestic one or an international one - , something of course that CNN does too, and I pondered why the NYT and IHT do not do the same. And if they did, would the international, or rather global edition of the NYT, take you to the IHT web site.

Well, I've been ruminating on this, and that just seems plain inconsistent, and in an age of remorseless cost cutting, what possible sense does it make for the same newspaper (the NYT) to run, maintain and develop two web sits - http://www.nytimes/ and http://www.iht.com/

Clearly it doesn't.

I'd say the smart money would be on the demise of http://www.iht.com/ in the coming 6-18 months.

So if you like http://www.iht.com/ (and I do, a lot) and you find the design of http://www.nytimes.com/ to be ugly, crowded and dated, then enjoy http://www.iht.com/ while you can.

The problem with Manhattan/American design sensibilities is that they just aren't very global. The graphics, typeface etc of http://www.iht.com/ is much more cosmopolitan, than the metropolitan, parochial, grey of http://www.nytimes.com/ But try telling that to a designer at http://www.nytimes.com/

Now, if http://www.iht.com/ were to be rolled into http://www.nytimes.com/ (and that's just purely a guess, based on logical thinking and an atmosphere of cost cutting - and http://www.iht.com/ is an easy hit), where do they go then with the IHT brand if it doesn't have an online presence?

I think they're going to ditch it. I think they believe if the IHT brand had value, it would have made money for them by now, so what's the benefit of keeping the legacy, and they're probably also considering the PR benefit of killing the IHT. (That's to say: lots of coverage.)

Sadly, that won't solve their problems.

I'm pragmatic. I don't care if the dingbat goes, I don't really care if the IHT brand goes, although I think they would run a real risk of losing a lot of their luxury and fashion advertising.

As a reader, what I want is a truly global newspaper, with no national bias or narrow editorial perspective. Being called the International NYT doesn't, per se, preclude that. But if they don't set that as their mission, as distinct to how they write for and edit for a U.S. audience, they can call it whatever they like, it won't fly globally.

From a business perspective however, I still think there is brand value in the IHT which the NYT haven't yet understood how they could leverage it. And it's all pretty obvious stuff.



1 comment:

OPL said...

Your posting hit the nail on the head Ian. These inconsistencies are indeed mounting. This is a fundamental problem the New York Times Company needs to face. I couldn't agree with you more on how the branding issue is confusing but differ with you on the importance of the IHT brand and how defining it is for the papers' future. This is a (or rather another) critical time in the IHT's history--and perhaps the final phase. I personally think that killing the IHT brand (instead of giving it the same independence as say the Boston Globe) is a mistake. After having been a witness of so much history spanning three centuries, should its survival depend on the whims (and self-fullness) of its current owners?

Have we forgotten what happened the last time the New York Times had an international edition? It could be wise for NYT Company top brass to look to the past to best understand what to expect in the future. The short lived venture (a mainly rebranded NY-edition) was not a success, so the only thing the Times could do was buy a piece of the market leader, the Paris Herald. That was back in the 1960s...

"The New York Times started an edition in Europe to compete with us [the NYHT-European Edition]. It was as dull as you could get, but the Times' owners demanded half the Marshall Plan subscriptions [that were previously allocated to the NYHT-European Edition]. The USIA had to give their share, but all hell broke loose with readers. Everyone from the British parliament to the French Foreign Office was furious that their subscription had been taken away and had been substituted by the Times, which was nothing more than a replate of the New York paper." Art Buchwald, I'll Always Have Paris

"...a paper [the international edition of the NYT] that was cold, gray, with no human quality... on the day that the Herald Tribune featured a banner headline about de Gaulle's rejection of British entry to the common market, the Times headline told about New York being blacked out by a power failure." Charles L. Robertson, The International Herald Tribune--The First Hundred Years

"...in New York, he said [New York Times Vice President, Ivan Veit] it is assumed that anything with the name "Times" on it is better... It was disconcerting to hear from Times (NY) devotees that they like the Paris Trib as well or better." Charles L. Robertson, The International Herald Tribune--The First Hundred Years

Apply the same NYC-centric view to the IHT today and the same could happen again. The IHT was able to attract non-American readers more than the Wall Street Journal or USA Today ever could. Not worth capitalizing on?

Nonetheless it is hard for me to argue against the New York Times--a company that has been commited to newspapers as more than just a business--after all, the IHT has relied so heavily on the NYT (along with the WP) for financial support and content over the past 40 years. And yes, the Times has invested more in IHT reporters than was ever done before (probably not since World War II). But why aren't these journalists identified in the paper as IHT journalists? Why aren't IHT editorials branded as such? Readers don't have a clue what they're reading and this further signals the Times' unwillingness to preserve the Herald. The IHT was a great platform to develop a truly global paper on, the NYT is not--just like it was not in the 1960s.

New York Times editorials are usually strong supporters of diversity in society at large. Surely the strength in the diversity symbolized by the world's first ever international daily is a valuable asset?