WASHINGTON (AFP) – Dire predictions about its future have swirled around the International Herald Tribune ever since The New York Times became the sole owner of the iconic English-language newspaper five years ago.
The announcement this week that the IHT’s website, iht.com, was being merged with that of The New York Times, NYTimes.com, revived speculation that the days of the IHT, which has been based in Paris since 1887, may be numbered.
Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, a former advertising executive at the Financial Times and IHT who took over as publisher in January, dismissed that view.
“People say, ‘Oh it’s an empty shell, the New York Times is stripping out all of the jobs.’ It’s just simply not true,” Dunbar-Johnson emphatically told AFP in a telephone interview.
“There is no intention to close or to stop branding the IHT,” he said. “But we want to be very clear about what we are, and what our mission is, and that is to be the international edition of the New York Times.”
The IHT publisher said the decision to merge iht.com with NYTimes.com was the result of “looking long and hard about how to best position ourselves for the digital future.
“We came to the conclusion that rather than building or investing in a separate site it made a lot more sense to combine the two sites,” he said.
“(By) combining the digital expertise and news-gathering resources of the Times with the distinctive international news judgment that we bring, we can better service international users and therefore international advertisers,” he said.
“It’ll give the site a lot more technological depth than we could manage without investing, frankly, millions of dollars,” Dunbar-Johnson said.
The IHT has been solely owned by The New York Times Media Group since 2003, when it purchased The Washington Post’s 50 percent stake in the paper for 70 million dollars.
Dunbar-Johnson believes the paper, which has been a touchstone for generations of Americans living abroad, is better than ever.
“If I put the IHT as it was in the co-owned days with the Washington Post and today’s product in front of you I defy anybody to tell me that the paper’s gone downhill,” he said. “It is more relevant, it is fresher and there’s been an enormous commitment from the New York Times.”
Dunbar-Johnson said the IHT, which reported circulation of 241,625 in 2007 and is available in 180 countries, was faring well at a time when many papers are struggling to cope with seeing their readership migrate to the Internet.
“The IHT is an extremely strong brand and it resonates very much with an international audience,” the publisher said. “We’ve grown our circulation, particularly in Asia and the emerging markets.
“Our advertising is up by way over 30 percent in the last three years.”
Dunbar-Johnson said that while Web operations were being shifted to New York, the print version would continue to be edited out of Paris, where it began more than 120 years ago as the European edition of the New York Herald.
“We have no plans to move out of Paris,” he said. “I would be surprised if we’d be getting any bigger in Paris, put it that way, but we have no plans to cut out of France.
“We think there are some distinct advantages in being in Paris in the sense that it helps give us a different perspective on things.
“It would be wrong to edit the newspaper in the United States. We would lose this critical international perspective that we have.”
As for the future of the paper, Dunbar-Johnson said: “I personally feel that we should be giving more emphasis to Asia. But there are opportunities in the Middle East for us, there are opportunitites in India.”