Full International: the Herald Tribune is still going strong

New investment has given the 'International Herald Tribune' a major boost, says Raymond Snoddy
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The Independent Online

Michael Golden, the publisher of the International Herald Tribune, is so enthusiastic about newspapers that he sometimes sounds like an accomplished seller of patent medicines. A good newspaper, he implies, can reach parts some media can only dream of penetrating.

"You spend 30 minutes with a printed newspaper and I spend 30 minutes on the web and you are going to know a lot more than me," argues Golden, 55, who is presiding over an expansion at the IHT following its purchase by the News York Times Company nearly two years ago.

Warming to his theme Golden picks up his copy of the Tribune and says: "There's nothing that beats the amount of information that's communicated when you scan this broadsheet - and compact format can do it too. Everything in the paper is a clue, from the size of the headlines to the placing of a story. You scan read as much as you want and then go back and pick up some more. It's more interactive than computers in a way."

Despite the ever-increasing competition from electronic media, Golden is convinced that key characteristics such as the portability and ease of consumption of newspapers will ensure their continuing popularity if not exactly for ever, then certainly for a very long time. "This is going to be around, particularly in the general interest sector, until something comes along that delivers it faster and right now nothing's even close," insists Golden whose great-grandfather Adolf Ochs started the Chattanooga Times in Tennessee in 1878 before going on to buy the ailing New York Times in 1896.

As a member of the Ochs/Sulzberger dynasty which still reigns at The New York Times, Golden was sent to Paris a year ago to develop the IHT after The New York Times bought out The Washington Post's 50 per cent interest in the international publication.

Alex Jones, who has written a history of the family behind The New York Times, says that they alienated the Graham family, owners of The Washington Post, in order to force a sale and get 100 per cent control of the IHT.

"It was more like a divorce than a business deal. We had been partners for 30 years in the business and neither wanted to sell," Golden concedes.

After a number of attempts at new joint ventures and combinations that didn't work, "it ended up being a sale". At that time there was a chance that the IHT, based in Paris since 1887, could simply have merged with the international edition of The New York Times and lost its historic identity.

Before any changes were made, a lot of market research was carried out. It showed that, not only was the IHT a well-respected brand, it was also perceived as an independent international newspaper. While the international New York Times was also seen as a high-value brand, not surprisingly it was also seen as very American.

"We want to be an international newspaper. We are an international newspaper," says Golden, who is implementing a business plan that has included extra investment in journalism - 11 new reporters were added in Europe this year - as well as front-page colour and new printing sites.

The trick is finding the right mixture of editorial for the paper's three quite distinct constituencies of roughly equal size - one third Americans living or travelling abroad, one third expats from other countries, with the final third coming from nationals living in their country of origin.

Golden, an American living in Paris, can certainly emphasise with at least part of the readership. "We like to say that the IHT is cognisant of every nation but captive of none," he says. Apart from additional investment there is now a better two-way flow of articles between New York and Paris even though the flow remains unequal. The New York Times will typically use between eight and 12 stories from IHT reporters each week while the IHT will use a dozen stories a day from New York. Now New York Times reporters will try to file stories in time for the IHT's earlier European deadlines, something that didn't happen before.

"The general interest nature of the paper is one of its great hallmarks," says Golden. "As tastes change, as interests change, as focus changes it's all within the purview of the IHT. We have the permission from our audience to talk about fashion, culture, technology, travel, food, you name it."

The extra investment in business coverage appears to have paid dividends in terms of both readership and prestige to an extent that seems to have surprised the IHT management. The latest European Business Readership Survey published in September show that the IHT had increased its business readership by 28.7 per cent compared with the 2002 survey and a similar survey in Asia showed a 20 per cent rise.

The IHT, which has 30 print sites around the world and is distributed in 185 countries, has a circulation of 240,000 and it is growing, although the paper is still loss making. Considerable investments are clearly being made for the future and advertising has not bounced back from the recession as quickly as expected. Golden is not, however, prepared to say how much the paper is losing but believes the red ink could disappear quite quickly given the right circumstances.

Under single ownership the New York Times Company is free to take longer-term investment decisions and Michael Golden knows exactly where to go for support - to the chairman, his cousin Arthur Sulzberger. Golden may be family but there is no doubt he has served his time, including eight years at the Chattanooga Times under a really tough publisher - his mother Ruth. He has been a reporter and worked in circulation and advertising as well as management.

As for the 117-year-old International Herald Tribune, he believes it will keep on going strong in an increasingly international world. "We are opening new print plants. We are increasing distribution around the world. That will continue," he promises.