The Paris Tribune At One Hundred


Buchwald was a twenty-three-year-old ex-Marine who was using the GI Bill and an occasional class at the Alliance Française to hang around Paris, writing for Variety, the show-business newspaper. He talked his way into a twenty-five-dollar-a-week Herald Tribune column reviewing nightclubs, restaurants, and movies and just kept talking. And because he was very, very funny when he talked and could write the way he talked, he became everyman’s American in Paris before moving on to Washington in 1962.

But other than that, the Trib of the fifties was mainly an undistinguished and profitless collection of highlights from the New York paper. Then, in a few dramatic years, the Trib and its world changed totally.

The New York Herald Tribune—what was left of the newspaper James Gordon Bennett, Sr., had founded in 1835—began its last eight years of life in 1958 with high hopes and great fanfare. The Reid family sold out to one of the richest men in America, John Hay (“Jock”) Whitney, ambassador to the Court of St. James’s and pillar of the Eastern Establishment Republican party the paper had served so well for decades.

The European edition of Whitney’s new paper was about breaking even by 1961 and circulation was up to 58,000, when, in 1961, The New York Times decided to publish an international edition from Paris with the obvious intent of putting the Trib out of business there. “The Battle of the Boulevards” it was called, and the Times had the big guns. Its promotion budget the first year was $500,000; the Trib ’s was $40,000. Within less than two years, the circulation of the Times was up to 31,797, compared with the Trib ’s 50,624.

The Times was losing close to $2 million a year on its international edition. The New York Herald Tribune was losing $150,000 a year on its Paris edition. Something had to give—merger negotiations were held sporadically from 1963 on—but nothing did until the New York Herald Tribune ceased publication on April 23, 1966.

Inevitably, deprived of the Herald Tribune News Service copy, the Paris edition would follow. But it didn’t. At a dinner at Art Buchwald’s house in Washington, Walter Thayer, the president of what became known as Whitney Communications, turned to the woman seated next to him and said, “Why don’t you buy into our Paris Herald Tribune?”

“What a fine idea,” said Katharine Graham, owner of the Washington Post.

Within two weeks Mrs. Graham’s paper owned 45 percent of the Trib —now the only “Trib.” Cash and news began flowing from Washington. Less than a year later, on May 22, 1967, the international edition of The New York Times folded and its owners bought a one-third share of the Herald Tribune. The deal created a tripartite ownership: Whitney, the Post, and the Times. The next day the surviving Paris English-language daily, grown into a European paper now, appeared under its present name: International Herald Tribune—with an underline reading “Published With The New York Times and The Washington Post.” (The order was established by a coin toss.)

By 1968 circulation had jumped above 100,000. Suddenly, as in Bennett’s time, the paper’s growth seemed limited only by distribution problems. He had used yellow Herald trucks and even racing cars to get the papers as far out of Paris as possible. Later the paper had its own fleet of yellow airplanes. Bennett would doubtless be dismayed by the changes that have overtaken the Herald’s work force since his day—he was never much of a union man—but he would be extremely pleased to know that his paper has managed to keep abreast of modern technology. The same journal whose inaugural copy rattled out across the Atlantic cable a hundred years ago became, in 1974, the first newspaper on earth to use telephone transmission to begin facsimile printing in other countries. By its hundredth year the American newspaper that James Gordon Bennett, Sr., had liked to call his “village paper” was printing simultaneously in Paris, London, Rome, Zurich, Hong Kong, The Hague, Marseilles, and Miami (for the Americas). And there were plans, some very tentative, to print in Rome, Tokyo, Casablanca, Delhi, Stockholm, Istanbul, and Rio de Janeiro.

Bennett had been very choosy about his village neighbors. He edited his Herald for the rich and powerful, reporting on their comings and goings, fashions and fun, proud to claim that two hundred copies daily went to the czar’s court in Russia. The rich and powerful changed over one hundred years and so did their interests—to market tables and oil prices, congressional debate and defense budgets. The Herald changed, too, over the years and now can claim that more than four hundred copies daily go to the Soviet Union. The International Herald Tribune’s village is global.