Ghostly vestiges of the gothic Herald Tribune logo still survive on the eastern facade of 230 West 41st Street in Midtown Manhattan, camouflaged by a faded Group Health Insurance emblem, and, more recently, dwarfed by the towering headquarters of The New York Times next door.
This fall, when The International Herald Tribune is rebranded as The International New York Times, that pallid logo atop the fabled Trib’s former home may become the most visible remaining legacy of one of the great names of American journalism.
The New York Herald Tribune was born in 1924, which means that it has been dead – since 1966 — longer than it was alive.
But it was not for nothing that Richard Kluger titled his 1986 biography of The Herald Tribune “The Paper” – as if there were no other – and that so many journalists craved a job writing for a scrappy paper that proclaimed, its thumb defiantly planted in The Times’s eye, that a good newspaper didn’t have to be dull. (Among those actually hired were Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap, Red Smith and Pete Hamill.)
I cherish a pay stub I saved (it must be all of $20) from my days as a campus correspondent for The Trib. My dreams of working there after college were dashed, though, when I witnessed the lintel bearing the words “The Tribune” being dismantled from the paper’s former headquarters in Printing House Square in Lower Manhattan on what I remember was the very same day that The Trib’s new owners declared it dead.
The Herald was a gossip-guzzling penny paper founded in 1835 by James Gordon Bennett, an eccentric Scot, Democrat and populist. The Tribune was first published by Horace Greeley, a Republican, onetime presidential candidate and promoter of Abraham Lincoln. The papers were so distinct that placing a hyphen in the combined name would have been presumptuous. (The Tribune acquired the Herald, but for some reason, the merged paper was not named the Tribune Herald).
Beginning under Stanley Walker, a city editor in the 1920s and ’30s, “it used to be said that The Trib was a writer’s paper and The Times was an editor’s paper,” said Richard C. Wald, The Herald Tribune’s last managing editor.
“It was the first paper to have a separate Book Review section (started by Irita Van Doren) or review paperbacks (you could look it up),” Mr. Wald recalled. “It had the most vivid serious sports page (you could look it up). Walter Kerr redefined how you could write about the theater. It was a knowing New Yorker’s daily look at the city, with some smart reporting on national and international events.”
Donald H. Forst, a former assistant managing editor, remembered that as the underdog, The Trib “fought harder, had wackier, brighter ideas, had great passion and therefore was more creative. You attracted people who were not yet buffed by rejection or molded into conventional ways of doing things. You weren’t afraid to make a mistake.”
Perhaps its greatest legacy, Mr. Forst said, was “it punched The Times in the nose, which made The Times a better paper.”
One Trib alumnus, Maurice Carroll, recalled that even a dozen years after he joined The Times his complaints about changes in his copy would invariably be met by an editor’s lament: “Oh, you Trib guys.”
When Homer Bigart, a famous World War II correspondent and another Trib alumnus who joined The Times, died in 1991, Clifton Daniel, a former Times managing editor, recalled: “It seemed to me that he always looked down on The Times, even when he worked there. Its main fault, in his eyes, was that it wasn’t The Trib.”
If it was so good, why did it succumb?
“By the time we came out of the Second World War, The Trib was arguably a better paper than The Times in the sense of being better edited, better written, graphically more pleasing,” Mr. Kluger said. “But it just didn’t have the depth. It got overwhelmed by its failure to invest in itself for wider coverage and more space. It was in last place in the morning and couldn’t command the advertising. And it was a Republican paper, a Protestant paper and a paper more representative of the suburbs than the ethnic mix of the city.”
The headquarters building itself suffered from neglect. “Homer, how can we make The Times more like The Tribune?” Mr. Bigart was asked by Arthur Gelb, one of his new colleagues at The Times. Mr. Bigart replied, “Turn off the air-conditioning.”
And when John Hay Whitney toured the place as The Trib’s new owner in 1958, he couldn’t help but notice the despair and decrepitude. Then he repaired to the Artist and Writers restaurant at 213 West 40th Street, which was bustling with bonhomie (and now houses a Hale and Hearty restaurant) and where Mr. Whitney memorably declared: “I should have bought the bar.”
A half-century later, New York still has Herald Square (and Greeley Square). New York magazine, originally a Sunday supplement in The Trib, was reincarnated as a free-standing weekly. (And there are hyphenated Herald-Tribunes in Sarasota, Fla., and Batesville, Ind.)
The International Herald Tribune is the current incarnation of what began publishing in 1887 (as a European edition of the New York Herald) and became known as the Paris Herald and later the I.H.T.
The quirky paper based in Paris reflected James Gordon Bennet Jr.’s eccentricities (printing for 6,718 consecutive issues a bogus letter signed “Old Philadelphia Lady” that explained how to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit and vice versa). It was immortalized by Hemingway and Fitzgerald (Jake Barnes and Dick Diver read it) and in “Breathless,” the 1960 film in which Jean-Paul Belmondo’s girlfriend, Jean Seberg, plays an aspiring journalist who gets by hawking The Trib on Paris streets.
Beginning in 1967, the paper was operated jointly by the Whitney family, The Times and The Washington Post (The Times came first on the nameplate as a result of a coin toss). The Times became the sole owner in 2002. Within a few years, the handwriting was on the wall: The International Herald Tribune unceremoniously scrapped the hand-drawn “dingbat” that had squatted between “Herald” and “Tribune” on its front page since 1966 and that originated in the New York Tribune on April 10, 1866.
Even Mr. Kluger’s 801-page book was unable to resolve an enduring mystery: Why the clock in the logo was set at 6:12.