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Essay

herald tribune days

July 21, 2020

I recently came across this front page of The International Herald Tribune, published on this day in 1969. My late father had kept a copy of the paper from when we lived in France. (My brother must have doodled the cat above the nameplate; I still can’t draw that well.)


Two decades later, I had the good fortune of working at the Herald Tribune, as an editorial assistant. It was my first newspaper job. My first-ever byline was in the Trib; it was a story about Bostonians trying to live normal lives after Larry Bird got injured.

      

I had loved the paper as a kid, venturing eight kilometers from my grandparents’ house in Normandy to buy one of the few copies sold in Dieppe. I depended on the Trib for the baseball agate, the small type that I hoped would show the Red Sox winning, and my favorite player, Jim Rice, homering.

 

And so it was a thrill when I moved to Paris, with only one interview set up (by mail), and got a job as the assistant to the sports editor—the late John Phillips, an irritable but kind man at heart who would uncork a bottle of red wine at his desk every afternoon.


The paper was full of unhappy people, but it was a newspaper, after all, and I warmed to these soulful cynics. Not everyone was world-weary, though. Charles Mitchelmore, the night editor, was among the most devoted and levelheaded journalists I have ever known. I still recall Charles earnestly overseeing the front page the day the Berlin Wall fell. He treated the historic moment with all the seriousness that it deserved. I was saddened to see, just now, that Charles died two years ago.


Gone now are the days when a co-worker could camp out overnight on his office floor and when staffers played softball in the Bois de Boulogne, enjoyed seven weeks paid vacation, and worked in the composing room alongside chain-smoking Communist Party layout artists. Those communist workers knew that their jobs, with their benefits, were going to disappear, thanks to computers. Understandably, that only fed their unhappiness. Little did the rest of us know, however, what was coming for the newspaper industry as a whole.

 

The International Herald Tribune is no longer. The first global paper, it was eventually done in, ironically, by the globe-spanning internet. Nowhere in France are any kids now rushing to track down a copy of an American paper for baseball scores. But I’ll always have Paris.