Media news 4: The IHT, An American In Paris (and other items)

June 10, 2004

[A reminder about "Media News": Because there are a large number of journalists on this list, and the list concerns not only Middle-Eastern and related politics, but the way the media works, I am running an occasional series of dispatches dealing with developments in the news media in general. While some items will pertain directly to Mideast issues, others are for background only and at most have only indirect consequences for reporting on the Middle East. Reporters, producers, columnists and opinion editors on this list come from over 35 countries, but stories will generally concentrate on the US and Middle Eastern media -- Tom Gross]

 

This dispatch contains articles NOT directly relevant to the Middle East. Below are contents, followed by summaries, and then the stories in full in some cases.

CONTENTS

1. New York Times appoints a new editorial writer.
2. Jailed newspaper editor's appeal starts in Beijing.
3. Russian TV Newsman Fired in Media Crackdown.
4. The Financial Times on the future of the International Herald Tribune.
5. The Wall Street Journal considers adding a weekend edition.

 



SUMMARIES

NEW YORK TIMES NAMES NEW EDITORIAL WRITER

"Times Names an Editorial Writer" (New York Times, June 9, 2004). "Lawrence Downes, an editor on the national desk of The New York Times, has been named an editorial writer. The appointment was announced yesterday by Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page. Mr. Downes, 39, will specialize in suburban issues... Mr. Downes, who joined the copy desk of The Times in 1993, has served in various positions including those of editor in charge of the metropolitan and national desks on weekends. Since last summer, he had been the national desk's enterprise editor, overseeing features and original projects."

JAILED EDITOR'S APPEAL STARTS IN BEIJING

"Jailed newspaper editor's appeal starts in Beijing" (Taipei Times, June 8, 2004).

"The postponed appeal hearing of the jailed editor of a popular newspaper opened yesterday in southern China, in a case that has been linked to the reform tendencies of the country's new communist leaders. Yu Huafeng, former vice chief editor of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison for corruption related to the routine distribution of bonuses at the paper. His case has, however, been widely linked to anger by the central government over the paper's reports last year on the government-led cover up of the SARS outbreak.

The paper also won few friends in the government with its reports about the fatal beating of a migrant worker by prison police in Guangdong Province. The official paper of the booming southern province of Guangdong has garnered nationwide readership in its attempts to test the limits of China's state-controlled media..."

RUSSIAN TV NEWSMAN FIRED IN MEDIA CRACKDOWN

"Russian TV Newsman Fired in Media Crackdown" (New York Times, June 3, 2004).

"One of Russia's most outspoken television broadcasters has been fired after he aired a program against the wishes of the government... The firing of the broadcaster, Leonid Parfyonov, announced Tuesday night, appears to be the latest step by President Vladimir V. Putin in tightening control over the news media as well as other areas of public life. The firing - and the shutdown of Mr. Parfyonov's weekly current affairs program - drew accusations of Soviet-style censorship... "One of the best television hosts in Russia and one of the best analytic and information programs have not only been censored, they have been destroyed, which definitely indicates that we live in a police state," the Russian PEN Center of writers, poets and essayists said in one of the sharper commentaries.

"... the program, "Namedny," had been one of the last holdouts against government pressure... The offending program was an interview with the widow of a Chechen separatist leader. The interview ran on Sunday in Russia's Far Eastern time zones but then was pulled from the air under government pressure before it could be shown in Moscow... A number of journalists here reflected the chill in the air by offering bland reactions to the firing of one of their most prominent colleagues..."

THE FINANCIAL TIMES ON THE FUTURE OF THE HERALD TRIBUNE

"The Trib's future unfolds" (By Tim Burt, The Financial Times, June 8 2004).

"The recent past of the International Herald Tribune has all the twists and footwork of the MGM musical An American In Paris. Like Gene Kelly's character in the film, the Paris-based "Trib" was torn between two lovers - its shareholders, The Washington Post and New York Times. The situation came to a head when the Times took sole control of the global newspaper almost two years ago.

... Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of the New York Times Company and scion of its controlling shareholders, then went to Paris to address IHT staff. With him was his cousin Michael Golden, vice-chairman of the company. "The first thing we did after purchasing full ownership was to establish a new operating system, and say 'here is the business model'," remembers Mr Golden. "We had a town hall meeting with the Tribune and set out our plans."

But divorce from The Washington Post, which had partly owned the IHT for almost 40 years, was not easy. IHT managers feared a loss of autonomy... Peter Goldmark, IHT chairman and chief executive at the time, expressed the misgivings forcefully in his resignation letter. Accepting that he would pay dearly for breaking the "corporate code" of leaving quietly, Mr Goldmark exposed serious disagreements with the Times and warned of a loss of independence at the IHT. "At a time when the world is growing to mistrust America, it needs thoughtful voices and independent perspectives that see the whole world and are not managed from America," he said.

If anything, the volume of debate over the differences between American and European world views after the September 11 attacks and the Gulf war, and how these affect news coverage, has increased.

... Mr Golden, the IHT's new publisher, says the resources situation is changing. In his office on the Rue de Graviers, he calmly lays out the growth strategy for what he dubs "The World's Daily Newspaper" - though whether any title can claim to be "global", given the current distance between mainstream opinion in the US and western Europe (never mind the Middle East) is a moot point.

... They plan to build on the IHT's near-250,000 average circulation by emphasising its independent past... The IHT is now looking at embracing the Times code of ethics and implementing many of the checks and balances introduced in New York..." [The full article is below.]

TOM GROSS ADDS:

One of the ways the International Herald Tribune has sought to distance itself from the New York Times and gain extra international "credibility" is to run extra anti-Israeli photos, headlines, opinion pieces, cartoons, and letters, not found in the New York Times, a paper already slanted against Israel in its news coverage.

IHT editors have also been accused of alerting text to make it more anti-Israel than the same articles appearing in the New York Times. See various previous dispatches on this list, including "As Edited by...'The International Herald Tribune'" (January 28, 2004). As Evelyn Gordon, a seasoned Israeli journalist, wrote:

"Anyone puzzled by the vast difference between European and American attitudes toward Israel ought to spend some time comparing two newspapers: The New York Times and the Paris-based International Herald Tribune... IHT articles are credited to the Times and appear under Times reporters' bylines. But it turns out that IHT editors often "improve" the Times copy a bit. The adjustments are minor in terms of the amount of text changed, yet sufficient to give the reader a completely different understanding of events... the IHT often subtly alters Times copy to make its readers dislike Israel more."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL CONSIDERS ADDING WEEKEND EDITION

"Sixth Day Of Journal Back On Drawing Board" (By Keith J. Kelly, New York Post, June 4, 2004). "Wall Street Journal insiders say the company is once again talking up the idea of adding a sixth day of a publication to the paper, which now publishes Monday through Friday. The long recession and the defection of a key project coordinator had seemed to derail the project only months ago, but apparently the parent company, Dow Jones, never gave up hope. Dow Jones has proceeded to draw up prototypes and test the concept on focus groups - and though the response was said to be enthusiastic, the company feared launching it into the face of an anemic ad market... Now the idea has caught fire with Wall Street Journal publisher Karen Elliott House and her hubby, Peter Kann, the embattled Dow Jones chairman and CEO... The scenario now said to be gaining steam would call for the weekend edition to hit sometime in 2005."

 



FULL VERSIONS OF SOME OF THE SUMMARIZED ARTICLES

JAILED NEWSPAPER EDITOR'S APPEAL STARTS IN BEIJING

Jailed newspaper editor's appeal starts in Beijing
Taipei Times
June 8, 2004

The postponed appeal hearing of the jailed editor of a popular newspaper opened yesterday in southern China, in a case that has been linked to the reform tendencies of the country's new communist leaders.

Yu Huafeng, former vice chief editor of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison for corruption related to the routine distribution of bonuses at the paper.

His case has, however, been widely linked to anger by the central government over the paper's reports last year on the government-led cover up of the SARS outbreak.

The paper also won few friends in the government with its reports about the fatal beating of a migrant worker by prison police in Guangdong Province. The official paper of the booming southern province of Guangdong has garnered nationwide readership in its attempts to test the limits of China's state-controlled media.

"The appeal hearing began this morning," Xu Zhiyong, Yu's lawyer said.

Also convicted on the same charges in the case was Li Minying, former deputy Communist Party head at the Southern Daily group, the publisher of the paper, who was sentenced to 11 years.

Cheng Yizhong, chief editor of the paper, is awaiting trial on similar charges.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Chinese President Hu Jintao and at least 20 high-ranking Guangdong provincial officials have expressed serious concern over the case.

"Whether or not Yu Huafeng gets a lighter sentence today will be the result of a conflict of views within the Communist Party," the center said.

Hong Kong press reports have placed the conflict between Li Changchun, the powerful protege of former president Jiang Zemin who currently heads the party's leading group on ideological work, and his deputy Liu Yunshan, who is also the party's propaganda minister and linked to president Hu.

Li reportedly issued the orders to punish the paper's editors, while Liu has sought to fulfill Hu's hopes for greater openness in the Chinese press, the reports said.

 

RUSSIAN TV NEWSMAN FIRED IN MEDIA CRACKDOWN

Russian TV Newsman Fired in Media Crackdown
By Seth Mydans
New York Times
June 3, 2004

One of Russia's most outspoken television broadcasters has been fired after he aired a program against the wishes of the government and then objected angrily when the broadcast was abruptly halted.

The firing of the broadcaster, Leonid Parfyonov, announced Tuesday night, appears to be the latest step by President Vladimir V. Putin in tightening control over the news media as well as other areas of public life.

The firing - and the shutdown of Mr. Parfyonov's weekly current affairs program - drew accusations of Soviet-style censorship from some of his colleagues and warnings of colder times ahead from some political analysts.

"One of the best television hosts in Russia and one of the best analytic and information programs have not only been censored, they have been destroyed, which definitely indicates that we live in a police state," the Russian PEN Center of writers, poets and essayists said in one of the sharper commentaries.

More broadly, Anders Aslund, a political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, said the move against the program, "Namedny," had been "highly predictable" because it had been one of the last freewheeling holdouts against government pressure.

"It is very consistent with Putin's strategy of building authoritarianism in small steps," Mr. Aslund said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Last week Mr. Putin suggested further government control when he said some human rights groups and other civic groups were working against the national interest.

The offending program was an interview with the widow of a Chechen separatist leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed in Qatar, where he had taken refuge.

Mr. Parfyonov said he had decided to run the interview after at first withholding it at the request of the Russian government, which said it could reflect negatively on two Russians on trial in Qatar in connection with the killing.

The interview ran on Sunday in Russia's Far Eastern time zones but then was pulled from the air under government pressure before it could be shown in Moscow. "It was the kind of request you can't refuse," Mr. Parfyonov said at the time. But in an interview published Tuesday in the newspaper Izvestia, he sounded fed up with being pushed around by bosses and government officials.

"Don't teach me how to love my homeland," he said. "I have worked as a journalist for 25 years, and all these 25 years I've heard, 'It's not the right time yet, brother, not the right time.' It is about time to understand that information has an intrinsic value. It is neither harmful, nor useful, nor useless."

A news release issued by the station, NTV, said Mr. Parfyonov had been fired because he had violated a labor agreement requiring him to support company policy.

"I said from the very beginning that I will not take part in covering this up," he told Reuters on Wednesday. "I will go public and will not take blame for this shame."

A number of journalists here reflected the chill in the air by offering bland reactions to the firing of one of their most prominent colleagues.

"This is about relationships inside the company, and therefore I cannot comment on such things," Vladimir Pozner, a longtime television commentator, told the Interfax news agency.

 

THE TRIB'S FUTURE UNFOLDS

The Trib's future unfolds
By Tim Burt
The Financial Times
June 8 2004

The recent past of the International Herald Tribune has all the twists and footwork of the MGM musical An American In Paris. Like Gene Kelly's character in the film, the Paris-based "Trib" was torn between two lovers - its shareholders, The Washington Post and New York Times. The situation came to a head when the Times took sole control of the global newspaper almost two years ago.

Some of the harshest reviews of the event came from Tribune staffers. As one critic put it, this American in Paris "was extremely uncomfortable about the whole thing", especially jibes about financial support from an older woman - just as, onscreen, Kelly is teased: "Tell me, when you get married will you keep your maiden name?"

In the event, New York's "grey old lady" got her man. The NY Times overcame the Washington Post's objections, and assumed full ownership following a $65m buy-out. The IHT - which began life 108 years ago as the European edition of the New York Herald - was promised significant investment and editorial resources. And it kept its maiden name.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of the New York Times Company and scion of its controlling shareholders, then went to Paris to address IHT staff. With him was his cousin Michael Golden, vice-chairman of the company. "The first thing we did after purchasing full ownership was to establish a new operating system, and say 'here is the business model'," remembers Mr Golden. "We had a town hall meeting with the Tribune and set out our plans."

But divorce from The Washington Post, which had partly owned the IHT for almost 40 years, was not easy. IHT managers feared a loss of autonomy, and of the newspaper's distinctive attitude to politics, business and culture, if they were subsumed within a New York-managed operation with global ambitions.

Peter Goldmark, IHT chairman and chief executive at the time, expressed the misgivings forcefully in his resignation letter.

Accepting that he would pay dearly for breaking the "corporate code" of leaving quietly, Mr Goldmark exposed serious disagreements with the Times and warned of a loss of independence at the IHT. "At a time when the world is growing to mistrust America, it needs thoughtful voices and independent perspectives that see the whole world and are not managed from America," he said.

If anything, the volume of debate over the differences between American and European world views after the September 11 attacks and the Gulf war, and how these affect news coverage, has increased. A recent apologia by the New York Times over its coverage of the potential threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was the latest journalistic controversy at the once untouchable newspaper.

Mr Goldmark and the New York Times, however, agreed on one thing: there was no long-term economic future for the IHT under the old structure. It was a marginal product seen, often wrongly, as for expatriate Americans, which was losing money and starved of res-ources, as other publishers including Dow Jones and Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, went into new markets such as Asia.

Mr Golden, the IHT's new publisher, says the resources situation is changing. In his office on the Rue de Graviers, he calmly lays out the growth strategy for what he dubs "The World's Daily Newspaper" - though whether any title can claim to be "global", given the current distance between mainstream opinion in the US and western Europe (never mind the Middle East) is a moot point. In an unintended irony, on the wall is a Tribune poster showing Tony Blair standing shoulder to shoulder with Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder. The caption says: "Management Masters".

"When the IHT was owned 50-50 it essentially had no parent," says Mr Golden. "It was completely self-sustained and did not draw resources from either company except in editorial. Even then, editorial was given on an as-available basis." The full might of the NY Times has now been thrown behind its Parisian sibling. Reports from 1,200 journalists are available to the IHT.

Many observers had expected The New York Times to rename the Tribune as its own international edition. Last year, Howell Raines, former executive editor of the Times, ordered design work on a new front-page masthead for an international edition. But the plans were shelved when Mr Raines was ousted following a scandal over Jayson Blair, a Times reporter whose falsified stories exposed a culture of mismanagement.

Writing in Atlantic Monthly, Mr Raines said: "The stalling of our plans to remake the Times into a global newspaper has been a bitter disappointment to me, as I'm sure it has been to Arthur [Sulzberger]. The delay will be sold as a matter of fiscal prudence, but it really marks a failure of nerve in investing in the international-English language paper for which we felt the world was ready."

Mr Golden disagrees: "I would not call it a split over the name. When we decided to purchase the IHT the clear strategy was that this would be the international voice of the New York Times newspaper," he says. "There was a base of people who wanted to make it the international New York Times. But when the research came in, it was clear this was not the right move. The Tribune is very well known and carries a significant and clear brand premise to its existing and potential readers."

Having decided to retain the title, Mr Golden and an editorial team led by executive editor Walter Wells, a former assistant national editor of the Times and IHT veteran, established the principles for expansion.

They plan to build on the IHT's near-250,000 average circulation by emphasising its independent past. "There's no need to remake the paper into something it's not," says Mr Golden. The strategy will "build on breadth", stressing the IHT's general interest credentials with new columns and features. The IHT claims an intimate understanding of its readers. Its typical subscriber - a 49-year-old European senior manager with a $1.3m investment portfolio - has a high regard for American journalism.

IHT executives, who estimate the collective value of their readers at more than $741bn, want to serve a "global knowledge audience" that prefers objectivity to bias and informed comment to polemics. Mr Golden cites the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and BusinessWeek among the titles offering that service. But each one, according to the IHT view, may be mistaken in pinning its strategy to business readers. After months of costly research, the IHT and its parent have concluded that growth for global newspapers lies not in business and finance, but in general interest.

That is a crowded market, but Mr Golden believes the IHT can exploit its history of editorial independence and the resources of the New York Times to win general interest readers. In another step, areas such as advertising are being shared, allowing clients to buy a single campaign for both a US and international audience. So far, the two papers have won $2m of global ad spending and hope to double that in 2004.

The company is also investing an undisclosed amount on new information technology systems, advertising sales and reporters.

"Lastly, we have to sell smartly," says Mr Golden. "Our marketing campaign has to tell people that this general interest newspaper is very relevant. It gives us confidence we can grow."

But the IHT is still not profitable. The New York Times does not disclose the paper's losses; it refers only to a $13m deficit on joint ventures in 2002. "It's no secret that all international newspapers are struggling. It's a tough business," says Mr Golden. "The international Wall Street Journal and the international FT are not making money, but we believe with the resources of the New York Times behind us, we can turn the corner."

That effort will include new print sites, particularly in emerging markets in Europe and Asia, and more colour printing. Mr Golden calls this "swimming against the tide". He says globalisation has been about Asia and Europe going into the US. "We're going from the world's biggest economy the other way." The IHT, he insists, is more than a repackaged Manhattan export. Instead, it hopes to win a larger global audience for an American view of the world, balanced by its own independent voice: "Many brands have been destroyed by reinventing themselves as something they're not supposed to be. The IHT is general interest and global. That's the space to be in."

"If you want to find a newspaper that tells people what to think, the line is miles long," says Michael Golden, vice-chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of the International Herald Tribune. "But if you want to allow people to make their own conclusions it's harder to do, and harder to find the newspapers that do it.

"Independence in our view stands for American-style journalistic values, not pressured by party or group, and not grinding an axe. In England, when you know someone's political persuasion, you have a good idea of what newspaper they read. It's the same in France. It's not true in the US."

That confident note has not been so audible from Times executives in recent months. Two high-profile cases have punctured the paper's reputation for journalistic integrity.

The more recent was highlighted by a 1,200-word article published by the Times on May 26 and signed "From the Editors". While stating that weapons of mass destruction might yet be found in Iraq, the article admitted that the newspaper's coverage of the build-up to the Iraq war had failed to challenge claims, supported by the White House, that Saddam Hussein's regime was accumulating such an arsenal. The piece criticised several Times stories for over-reliance on information from Iraqi defectors and exiles "bent on regime change".

The Times was not the only US title to be slated for lending too much credibility to stories favourable to the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, but it is the most prestigious and has tackled the issue of journalistic shortcomings with a greater degree of breast-beating.

The same approach was taken to the furore over Jayson Blair, the former Times reporter who fabricated or plagiarised stories. Inquiries and multi-page apologies followed, triggering the departure of Howell Raines, the Times executive editor.

Among UK and European publishers, reactions to this hand-wringing stance vary. They range from admiration at this display of editorial self-questioning to Schadenfreude among those who feel the Times has always looked down on the journalism of its less well-resourced rivals, to the view that any more apologies would begin to look like self-indulgence.

Asked about the Blair scandal and Raines's departure, Mr Golden grimaces. But he insists that both the Times and the IHT will emerge battered and bruised, but wiser from the experience.

"The Times looked very seriously at what were the issues in the newsroom that needed to be addressed, specifically around Jayson Blair but also around other issues besides one rogue reporter," he says. "They've done a great job in dealing with that, and we benefit in terms of the reporting that comes out."

The IHT is now looking at embracing the Times code of ethics and implementing many of the checks and balances introduced in New York. But its publisher argues that the international brand - serving a nomadic, high-wealth readership - has been relatively unscathed.

"The great strength of having a strong brand is that it can withstand a shock, provided people believe you're dealing with it."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.