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.”
Everyone seemed to be shouting at the same time—well, mostly cursing at the same time—and deadlines were always too short. I vaguely recall a deadline bell. Manual typewriters clanked and phones rang. It was what a newspaper office is supposed to sound like.
Most of the time, once copy was handed in, I’d get ignored. I’d already been fed, I’d written, and there was no further use for me. But sometimes, on really good nights, someone would take me downstairs into the basement to watch the first edition roll off the press. They’d let me yank my own copy from the conveyor belt and there it was: my story, still warm, like a fresh-baked baguette.
Best of all, there was ink on my hands.
Sadly, progress took its toll. When the IHT moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine, the old building was sold and the name on the front of it taken down.
Somehow the editors coped.
I never could.
The new office was open-plan, with a few private, glass-walled rooms along the side, and no booze anywhere to be seen. There might have been a news desk, I don’t remember. Everyone was just someone else in just another cubicle. The place had the pall of an insurance office.
Not long after the move, I had an as-yet-unfiled story, which someone said they could use. But now the copy deadline was early, like 6 or 7—they were printing all over Europe and had to worry about the Far East edition, too—which meant no more lazy dinners. It also meant no more manual typewriters. Someone sat me down in front of a word processor for the very first time, and I hated it.
When I finally finished, instead of carrying the copy to a desk, and getting a grunt from some guy with gin breath, I merely pushed a button. And that was that. I never saw the story again until it appeared on the back page the following morning.
It just didn’t feel right.
There was no ink.
There were, however, still some great characters. Mike Zwerin knew more about jazz than just about anyone in Europe. And Hebe Dorsey was the first to critique fashion like a Broadway play. The fact that I never saw her smoke stogies and swig bourbon might only be because I wasn’t always watching.
Then there was Dick Roraback. He was a terrific guy who’d been an editor there for years and wrote all sorts of offbeat stuff. I remember one piece he did about crossing the Danish border without his passport. All he had to prove that he was him was his American Express card. Dick wrote funny, and when the IHT wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stanley finding Livingstone, they sent him.
It was Bennett who, in 1869, had dispatched the New York Herald’s best reporter, Henry Stanley, to investigate the disappearance in Africa of the Scottish medical missionary Dr. David Livingstone. Two years later, Stanley located the long-missing man on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. That’s where Stanley supposedly said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
Truth be told, he almost certainly didn’t say that. Dick’s centenary version of the encounter ran as a double-truck spread—two facing pages—in the middle of the paper, over five days. At least I seem to remember it as five days. Maybe it was only three. Still, it was a lot of space for one story. No paper would dare consider such a thing today. But that’s what the IHT did.
It was a paper that loved writers and writing.