Special to WorldTribune.com
NEW DELHI — The guy at the lobby desk of The Asian Age was definitive. No, he did not have the International Herald Tribune, printed for readers in India in the south-central city of Hyderabad by the company that puts out The Asian Age and the much larger Deccan Chronicle.
“The IHT is closed,” he said in the matter-of-fact tone of someone closing up for the day.
No, he knew nothing about The New York Times replacing the IHT with a paper bearing the name of the Times. Only the day before, he’d been selling the final edition of the IHT with a headline in red in the top right of page one, “TURNING THE PAGE.” Beneath was the portentous announcement, “TOMORROW, WE CHANGE OUR NAME, TODAY, REVISIT OUR LAST 126 YEARS.” Inside, readers were led to believe, lurked “a commemorative special report.”
I’m pretty sure the IHT would not have advertised a “special report” without actually producing one, but I’m damned if I could find it in the paper that I got — the last edition of the IHT, “THE GLOBAL EDITION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES … PRINTED IN HYDERABAD.”
I’m still holding on to that final edition as a souvenir but hoping some day someone shows me that “commemorative special report” — an exercise in nostalgia that might be interesting.
What is difficult to understand, though, is why The New York Times, behaving like a jungle monster chewing up its enemies, would want to destroy the venerable name of the International Herald Tribune. The Times more than ten years ago forced out the Washington Post as co-owner of a paper that had been a must-read in Paris and the rest of Europe for more than 125 years. All the stories since then have been by Times people, whether full-time or stringers or free-lancers. The Times has long since taken over the IHT website, folding it into the NYT website.
You have to wonder if a paper named the International New York Times can ever gain the spirit of the Herald Tribune, which seemed to permeate the IHT even if the stories were all NYT. The Herald Tribune spirit is a carry-over from the days of the old New York Herald Tribune, the real Herald Tribune. When I was reading the Trib in the early 1960s as a reporter for the tabloid New York Post, it was simply the best paper in the city.
The Times might beat it in square inches of news space, but the Herald Tribune had the sprightliest writing.
Or at least that was my impression from reading the sports columnist Red Smith, a national name unsurpassed by his peers at the Times or even by some of the harder hitting columnists for other more sensational papers. Then there was Marguerite Higgins — “Maggie” — the correspondent and columnist who got her start in Europe in World War II, covered the Korean War and was pounding out copy from Vietnam in the 1960s when she died of a tropical disease in 1966.
Over the years I’ve heard innumerable stories about Maggie, mostly to do with her relationships with American generals, one of whom she married, and her fling with Keyes Beech, the Chicago Daily News correspondent who’d been with the Marines in the Battle of Okinawa and covered both the Korean and Vietnam wars. I heard that Nora Ephron, a reporter at the New York Post in the early 1960s, was thinking of a movie, “Maggie and Keyes.” Keyes, master of the 500-word story, goes down in my book as the best correspondent of that era, at least on this side of the planet.
The history of the Herald Tribune is strewn with other names — Jimmy Breslin was a columnist, Tom Wolfe wrote for the paper’s Sunday magazine, New York , which survived as an independent magazine after the New York Herald Tribune shut down nearly half a century ago. And then there were those political types, Walter Lippman, a philosophical head-scratcher, and Joseph and Stewart Alsop. I particularly remember Joe, a hard-line conservative before whom the U.S. military bowed and scraped on his sorties to Vietnam.
I used to run into him at the hotel where I stayed in Saigon – the Majestic — terribly gracious to young journalists, excoriated by liberals.
For a time, mainly from Korea, I filed for the International Herald Tribune. The editors, with one or two exceptions, were decent types, open to ideas. Then the Times took over, and know-nothings from Tokyo began swinging their weight around. The worst two have disappeared, thankfully, from Asia and the Times, but who believes the International New York Times can recapture the glory days of the Herald Tribune, whether in New York or Paris — or even Hyderabad?
Columnist Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, filed for the IHT from Seoul and elsewhere, 1997-2003, and later for WorldTribune.com. He’s at email@example.com.