Bonjour, cherie, get me rewrite On a good night, as deadline neared in the bullpen on the rue de Berri, an editor would bark, ‘We need a back page. Half an hour.’ (International Herald Tribune Archive)
They’re going to bury my newspaper.
The International Herald Tribune is dead.
Once upon a time, this wonderful, irreverent, and forever-iconic, six-days-a-week, Paris-based broadsheet was cherished by Americans in Europe. With the IHT, being away from home didn’t mean being cut off from home. This fall, The New York Times, which owns the paper, is taking down the masthead and turning it into the global edition of The New York Times.
It doesn’t make sense. If you want what the Times has to offer, you can have it on the Web. Why would anyone from Lubbock, Texas, who finds herself in Lubbock, Germany, care about The New York Times? There are already plenty of people in New York who don’t care about it.
One of the last of the great journalistic legacies is soon to be a vacant lot.
Born as the Paris Herald in 1887, the paper was the lovechild of the man who then owned the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett Jr. The lunatic son of a legendary American newspaperman, Bennett headed for Europe after socially disgracing himself in New York and settled in Paris, which has always been a fine place to be the family’s black sheep.
His timing was perfect. Wealthy Americans were flocking to Paris to buy art, to dress in the latest fashions, to eat the food, and to soak up the culture of a city they considered to be the most sophisticated in the world. While the British built London for the British, the French had built Paris for the world.
Some of us have never been able to get enough.
Seeing a niche, Bennett reinvented his New York paper in Europe to cater to the tastes of wealthy American travelers and expatriates. He stressed names and news, told stories you couldn’t find anywhere else, brought Linotype and comic strips across the Atlantic, raced his early editions by Mercedes to the Channel so they could be sold quickly in England (he eventually flew them, making the IHT the first truly international newspaper). He even highlighted sporting events on the front page.
He set a tone of impertinence that characterized the iht for more than a century.
The paper, when I came to know it in the early 1970s, was housed in a grubby office block at 21 rue de Berri, just off the Champs-Élysées in the 8th Arrondissement. Newsweek’s Paris bureau was on the third floor. The printing presses were in the basement.
To be honest, calling that building grubby doesn’t come close. The paint on the walls had long ago flaked off. The building probably had an elevator—I’m almost sure there was one—but no one in their right mind would have trusted it. Not that the stairs were any better. None of the steps were parallel with the floor.
There was a horseshoe editors’ desk, manned by old salts wearing shirt garters, none of whom could be bothered to hide their bottle of booze in some desk drawer. Drawers didn’t close, anyway, because the wood was so warped with age. The furniture was mostly broken, all of the typewriters had seen better days, and the place stank of smoke—cigarette, cigar, and pipe.
The staff wasn’t very big, and then not everybody was there all the time. If you couldn’t find someone, the first place you checked was the bar across the street at the Hotel Californie.
The editor was a rough-and-ready character named Murray Weiss—everyone called him Buddy—who’d started at the New York Herald Tribune as a copyboy just after World War II; he worked at every desk in the building and ran the paper from 1966 to 1979 like Patton’s army. Buddy liked writers, especially young writers, and he was always extremely nice to me. As I recall, his wife worked there too, which wasn’t uncommon. Just about everybody seemed to be married to, or divorced from, or married again to, everybody else.
Although I was based in the south of France, one of the great treats of Paris was coming up to that office and mooching an impromptu invitation to dinner. The paper didn’t go to bed until late, so food at 7:30 meant plenty of time afterward to get the paper out. On the best of those visits, someone would announce, “We need a back page,” and someone else would say, “The kid’s here,” and I’d be directed to a half-broken desk with a mostly-broken, infinitely uncomfortable swivel chair and told, “Half an hour.”