Thursday, 18 September 2008

The (non) future of IHT web producers in Paris (Version 2.0)

If you like then you're not going to like this.

It has been common knowledge at the IHT for sometime that a stand alone was going to go, and be folded, somehow, into the

Most (if not all, I don't know exact number) web producers posts in Paris are disappearing over the coming months.

I've sat on this story for a long-time out of respect for the people who told me about it - people losing their jobs, but it seems it's common knowledge now.

The worst thing about the whole event at the IHT, internally, is that any departmental closure leads to absolutely terrible morale. This isn't so much a fault of the IHT but the IHT, being a French registered company over a certain size, having to deal with French labour laws. These labour laws demand management inform the worker's committee of any planned lay-offs or important changes, and provide them a prescribed amount of time during which to come back with an official response.

Management is normally happy to keep their lips zipped during this phase, but members of the committee have historically proven themselves incapable of keeping these discussions secret - as they should - before their official response to management. So word leaks out to the people affected; management is obliged by law to neither confirm or deny or make any official comment on any such plans as being official (until the committee who has leaked the plans come back with their response - if management does say something, they are then in violation of French labour law which has considerable knock on consequences for how any settlement agreements are arranged).

Oh, what a wicked web we weave when we practise to deceive.

The deception is one imposed by French law, not by intent and it's very difficult for management to deal with when the workers committee can't keep their traps shut. Rumours spread like wild fire, people are obliged to lie to people they know well, even are friends with; it all makes for a very nasty atmosphere indeed. Especially at a newspaper with a building of professional cynics hardly conducive to a happy clappy atmosphere.

The atmosphere, relating to all these changes, and even a rumoured move of Op-Ed to NY (vigorously denied by senior sources; a counter story is that Roger Cohen is going to get Serge S.'s job) has been described by one as 'vile', 'vindictive' and 'worse than at Lehman Brothers'. Other sources describe that description as complete rubbish, and that leads me to think my 'vile' source doth protest too much.

All rather distracting and judging by the number of stories being repeated on on the same day under different headlines, sports stories showing up in the business section, and vice versa, etc., etc., one could say it is having a negative impact on the paper's web site. So then, what about

Good question. Where it ends up remains to be seen but the facts are that the IHT is the global edition of the NYT, whether the people at the IHT or its readers like that idea or not. The transfer of decision making power (editorially and business) to NY has been going on for years now, and had it not been for the market research which showed the brand value of the NYT internationally was so damn low, the paper would long ago have been called the INYT.

Even before Oreskes left (pushed/whatever/who cares) they dropped the IHT byline and no-one seemed to care; I certainly didn't.

Here's the Oreskes and Keller memo of that time (2006):

Friends, Close readers of the NYT noticed something missing from Dan Bilefsky's story this morning on fears of a new Russian "occupation" in Latvia. No, nothing wrong with the story, which was fascinating. Missing was the agate identifier under his byline saying "International Herald Tribune." It's gone for good. As best we can recall, the agate line originated as a way of promoting the close partnership of NYT and IHT. It proclaimed to Times readers: All the great journalists of the NYT, PLUS all the great journalists of the IHT! But our impression is that readers, if they noticed at all, reacted with a "huh?" And some at the IHT took it as a signal that the Trib pieces were somehow regarded as second-class bylines. So, no more. The NYT and the IHT will henceforth fly the same flag (which, agate-wise, is no flag.) At the same time, and for the same reason (to show we are all one news organization), the IHT is dropping its agate lines that up to now have labeled stories as New York Times or International Herald Tribune. Since the top of the front page of the IHT proudly proclaims that it is Published by The New York Times, there seems no need to hammer the point that it is all New York Times journalism striving for the same high quality. Bill Keller & Mike Oreskes

Will IHT readers go 'huh?' when goes away? Good question. It all depends on what comes in its place, and secondly, if the NYT editors in NY are smart enough to realise that readers of the IHT don't want an international version of the NYT - they want a global newspaper/site that caters to their needs which are not the same as Americans abroad or Americans interested in international affairs from an American perspective.

Equally, to many much more graphic-design aware/sophisticated European readers, looks like a bottle of spilt ink (leaving aside any question of how content for IHT readers is flagged and catered for).

But irrespective of what comes in terms of design and content changes at as a result of closing a few things ought to be crystal clear to anyone who follows the IHT, the NYT or newspapers in general.

The fortunes and future of the IHT are reliant on the good graces of its owner the NYT, and anyone who thinks otherwise, or is fighting that thought, is a dinosaur.

The web merger is a good thing for the IHT and the New York Times Media Group - if well-handled, as discussed above. It will give the IHT a much larger digital foot print.

It simply doesn't make any type of editorial or commercial sense to run two web operations in two cities on opposite sides of the pond, when we are talking about one newspaper (with a global edition).

No doubt the way the whole thing has been handled - secretive, keeping staff in the dark, etc etc - has been upsetting for morale and individuals naturally very concerned about their futures, but the fault for that lies as much with the workers' committee and the demands of French law as it does with IHT management.

Now let's hold our breath and see where we end up without in March 2009.

Somewhere better hopefully, but my thoughts and best wishes for all those people who have put so much work into and made it such a terrific site. I feel for them and wish them the very best.

It would be a shame if failed to bring in some of their European/international experience into their operation in NY, but I fear not.

International Herald Tribune
New York Times
Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris

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