WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) — It may have seemed like a minor ripple in the media teacup, but the relaunch this week of the International Herald Tribune as a wholly owned product of The New York Times signals something profoundly interesting — beyond the enduring appeal of print in the Internet age — about the way the world is unfolding.
The Trib, as it is it known fondly to most of its 270,000 subscribers and regular buyers, has long been the world’s daily newspaper, owned jointly by The N.Y. Times and The Washington Post, and a godsend to Americans in Europe wanting to keep up with the baseball scores and op-ed pages back home. As a regular and devoted reader of the paper (and not just on my travels), the Trib has meant much more than that to me, even though the Internet reveals that a dismaying proportion of its stories were a day old, recycled from the previous day’s Times and Post.
Being dated was the Trib’s biggest weakness. It was not the fault of the editor, David Ignatius. The parent papers back in Washington, six hours behind the Trib’s publishing base in Paris, were not prepared to change the deadlines for their own reporters and news stories to accommodate the Trib’s printing schedule.
Given this constraint, the Trib did well, although not profitably, in a very tough market. More and more newspapers are trying to serve an extraordinary new market of Anglo-Americans abroad and English-speaking foreigners who want an Anglo-American take on the world.
The Wall Street Journal sells 186,000 of its European and Asian editions every day. The Financial Times sells 430,000 a day, just a third of them in Britain, and the rest in the United States and Europe, where it has become the daily bible of the European Union, the dominant newspaper in Brussels, the EU capital. Then there is USA Today, now published in 60 countries, and the combined circulation of over 100,000 in Europe for the British dailies The Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian.
Add this up, and the international market for daily newspapers in English is close to a million, and since most of them seem affluent and cosmopolitan, a highly desirable target market for advertisers. But financial viability has been elusive in this business, because of the competition. The Trib has been the only paper without a domestic profit base, like the FT’s sales in Britain or the deep, deep pockets of The Wall Street Journal.
The new Trib came about because, according to well-informed sources in the business, The N.Y. Times made the Post an offer it could not refuse. Either the Post sold its share in the Trib for $75 million, or the Times would launch its own rival for the juicy expat and English-speaking market. In short, The New York Times (despite already making an annual $15 million profit on its Internet venture) saw an opportunity.
The reborn Trib still boasts some Post articles in its business section, and still runs some N.Y. Times pieces a day late. It also continues to run some of the Trib’s own fine Europe-based reporters like Barry James. But N.Y. Times Editor Howell Raines pledges that, “Our journalistic clock will change. We will be a more 24-hour news-gathering organization. We are already moving in that direction with the Web site.” The new Trib editors will be connected by phone to the NYT’s editorial conferences, and beefed-up rewrite desks in New York and at the Times’ Washington bureau will intensify the Times’ influence.
The Times clearly has its sights on that million-strong Anglophone market. Throw in the 750,000 readers of Newsweek’s international editions, a similar number for Time magazine (140,000 for the European edition alone), and The Economist’s 450,000 subscribers outside the United States, and the overall market looks potentially closer to 2 million. Then think about the global TV reach of CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp., and of Voice of America and the BBC World Service on radio. Fewer than 400 million people learn English as their mother tongue, but another 400 million are fluent in English as a second language, and another billion people around the world are currently studying it.
This says a lot about the power of the English language, and Bismarck’s prescient remark that the most important fact of the 20th century would be that the British and Americans spoke the same language. The other international languages, Spanish and French, have as yet no equivalent global outlets. Indeed, the Francophone outlet with the widest international spread is the English language version of the Agence France Presse news agency.
The news and comment — and thus the context for thinking – of the elites of the globalized world are in the hands of the Anglo-Americans. CNN and BBC, Reuters and AP or UPI, Time and the Economist, the Financial Times and the new Trib, comprise a potential that The New York Times was rightly eager to join. Because these days, it’s about a whole lot more than baseball scores.
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Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.