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N.Y. Times to Control Herald Tribune

Newspaper is buying out the Washington Post, which told its reporters that it had reluctantly agreed to the Paris-based paper's sale.

October 23, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — The New York Times is buying out the Washington Post and taking sole control of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. The Post told its reporters Tuesday that it agreed to the sale only after the Times threatened to drive the Herald Tribune into ruin.

The Times said the sale was by mutual agreement but had no response to the Post's charges, which represented a rare airing of dirty laundry between two newspaper titans. The Times and the Post have equally shared ownership of the Herald Tribune since 1991.

No terms of the sale were disclosed.

The 115-year-old English-language paper, with a circulation of 264,000 from Spain to Lebanon to Japan, has been hit by a global advertising slump in the last two years. But in a memo obtained by Associated Press, Post Chairman Donald E. Graham made it clear to Post editors and foreign correspondents that he had not wanted to sell. The memo says the Times proposed the sale earlier this year and warned of dire consequences if the Post did not agree.

"If the Post did not sell, the Times said it would start its own international edition anyway, intending to sell as many copies as allowed under the IHT partnership agreement. The Times also said it would block any cash infusion into the IHT, which the partnership agreement would permit it to do," the memo reads. "With increased competition from an international edition of the Times, and with the Times effectively blocking ongoing support for the IHT, continued IHT operations under joint ownership would soon become untenable, threatening the future of the newspaper and its staff."

The memo stated that the Post would have preferred to maintain joint ownership and editorial control, but that the Times would not budge and essentially strong-armed the Post into the sale.

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis refused to discuss the Post memo.

"The Times has done a number of things over the years to expand its content, so certainly this is a way in which we can become a stronger international print voice," Mathis said. "We also believe that the IHT will benefit from operating with a single parent."

The feud is the latest development as both media companies try to expand their reach domestically and overseas. But it is unusual to see such a disagreement made public. The Post, which has its own overseas reporting staff, said it is exploring other options, including possible arrangements with newspapers and other media abroad.

The transfer of Herald Tribune ownership should take place by the end of the year or early next year, Executive Editor David Ignatius said. Details and legal issues are still being worked out.

Mathis said no job cuts or changes in operation or management were expected.

The paper prints articles from the Post, the Times and its own correspondents. It has a staff of 250.

Ignatius said he hoped the paper's headquarters would remain in Paris.

"Part of the IHT's strength is that it is an international newspaper based in Paris with its own voice and traditions," Ignatius said. "We may speak with an American accent, but we are truly an international paper."

Founded in Paris in 1887, the newspaper has played an international role in a city considered by many to be the world's cultural capital.

"We think that rather than owning half of a great global newspaper, [the Times] wants to be a great global newspaper," Ignatius said.

In April, for example, the respected French daily Le Monde started publishing a 12-page weekly supplement of Times articles -- in English.

Both the Post and the Times have had a stake in the paper since the mid-1960s, when they shared control with Whitney Communications. They bought Whitney out in 1991.

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