[SOUND CLIP OF ACTRESS JEAN SEBERB FROM THE FILM BREATHLESS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was an iconic image of the era. Young, pretty Jean Seberg walking down the Champs Elysees, hawking the Herald Tribune to other trendy ex-pats in Jean Luc Goddard's 1960 film Breathless. The original New York Herald Tribune died in 1965, but the European edition survived -- a foundling rescued and jointly published by the Washington Post and the New York Times -- or so it was until New Year's Day when after a bitter internal struggle the Times forced the Post out and took sole ownership of the 115 year old American standard. As Frank Browning reports, the troubled story of the Trib reveals much about both America's romance with Paris and about the new reality of global branding in the media.
FRANK BROWNING: Like so many Americans, the paper's founder, James Gordon Bennett, fled New York for Paris on the heels of personal scandal -- he had gotten drunk and urinated in his fiancee's fireplace on New Year's Eve. It was 1887. Bennett wagered that the growing population of nouveau riche Americans steaming to Europe for the "Grand Tour" would be hungry for a paper of their own. As the paper's historian, Charles Robertson, said -- it started out as a clubby journal.
CHARLES ROBERTSON: So what he did was aim this newspaper at a wealthy cosmopolitan class and at these Americans who had their own institutions in Paris like American Cathedral, American Church - the Rotary Club - Men's Club - Women's Club -- and the was very much aimed at this Paris audience. It was full of names, names, names-- when they were arriving in Paris; where their yachts were going and so on. So it was really a wealthy person's newspaper until World War I.
FRANK BROWNING: It was just The Herald in those days. The Tribune came along in mid-century after a variety of mergers. Sometimes it made money -- the teens and the 1920s. And often it lost a lot. But making money was never a major motivation. The paper, as Charles Robertson says, was always about that very special and often cantankerous place that Paris has held in the American imagination.
CHARLES ROBERTSON: Thomas Jefferson said everybody has two countries -- his own and France. By 1900 you've got 10,000 resident Americans there.
FRANK BROWNING: Mike Zwerin is a jazz writer and an accomplished trombonist who has written for the Herald Tribune for the last quarter century.
MIKE ZWERIN: It was, it was still in that - in their office on Rue de Berry by the Champs Elysees and was very -- like sort of an old building but very comfortable and very friendly. It was a family, you know? That place on Rue de Berry with the cafes next door and all -- I mean it was a real -- still really a kind of neighborhood in a funny kind of way -- maybe the last one around there. And when they moved, the soul went out of it, and-- and out of them in a way. That's --that's saying too much, but they moved to a modern building in Neuilly and they got modern.
FRANK BROWNING: And for a while -- the '60s and the '70s --the paper made money. More to the point, it was at last becoming a genuinely international newspaper, printed in 22 cities around the world, permitting home delivery in most major capitals. By the 1990s, the IHT, as it came to be called, entered into joint operating deals with 10 major papers in Europe and Asia, offering English translations from those papers to local IHT readers. With a dozen or so of its own reporters and the staffs of both the Washington Post and the Times, no other international paper offered the range of global coverage the IHT provided. For Walter Wells who came to the paper more than 20 years ago, retired and is now back as managing editor, the IHT turned into a lifelong love affair.
WALTER WELLS: It's quirky, individualistic and really a singular journalistic product. Makes you love it.
FRANK BROWNING: Yet despite all the deals and a circulation of 240,000 it still lost money for most of the last decade. Estimates range from a million a year to 5 million in 2001. For huge media conglomerates like the Post and the Times, these losses were a pittance, and insiders say the Post didn't mind. For Post reporters, one staffer said, the IHT was a sort of vanity press, showcasing articles that were seldom seen outside Washington. But the Times' management began to chafe at the losses. Last fall, the Times made a take-it-or-leave-it proposition -- either the Post sell its share to the Times, or the Times would quit pumping money into the paper. The Post publisher, Donald Graham, whose mother had been instrumental in saving the IHT in 1965, was reportedly enraged but finally gave in rather than see the paper die. The price tag? 70 million dollars. When the deal went public, a storm of letters poured in from anxious readers.
HOWELL RAINES: I think in the short run there's going to be no change in the IHT.
FRANK BROWNING: Howell Raines, executive of the New York Times.
HOWELL RAINES: How it plays out as part of our journalistic family we'll have to see in the long run.
FRANK BROWNING: The last month has seen a steady stream of top Times managers filing through the Paris offices. Early on, Times publisher Arthur Salzberger told the staff that the paper could not continue to hemorrhage money. Raines and Salzberger have been clear that they see the IHT principally as a vehicle for turning the New York Times into a sort of global brand name, just as its national edition has done within the United States.
HOWELL RAINES: Our news report is now existing across several platforms. That is to say -- the web, television, books and now in the, in the IHT in the international arena. So we think that, you know, the days in which the New York Times travels on the backs of, of dead pine trees will eventually end, but the market for our quality information I think is, is going to be extensive and, and infinite.
FRANK BROWNING: Infinite? Well, maybe. But that still says nothing about whether the IHT will survive as a morning accompaniment to coffee and croissants. For editor Walter Wells it's the fact that the physical paper is edited by Americans living in Paris that gives it its character.
WALTER WELLS: If you move the paper to London, then it turns into a Fleet Street newspaper. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily; but it turns it into something that's no longer an international paper. There's nothing Americans love more than to suddenly become British. So I could just have seen this newsroom filled with these would-be Brits running around. If you move this paper to Amsterdam, another place that's very pleasant to live, but it's eccentric. It's a crossroads for finance, certainly, for trade; but-- it's not a crossroads for information. If you moved it to Amsterdam you might just as well move it White Plains!
FRANK BROWNING: Last week Peter Goldmark, IHT's publisher, resigned. In an emotional, all-staff meeting Goldmark called the Times' takeover "the end of the IHT as an independent newspaper." Meanwhile, the jilted Washington Post lost no time cutting a deal with the Wall Street Journal to provide Post copy to the Journal's overseas editions. While the Journal's international circulation is much smaller than the IHT's, it's now the fastest-growing international English language paper in the world, promising competition for the global branding sweepstakes. For On the Media, I'm Frank Browning in Paris.