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In digital era, New York Times eyes growth abroad with global edition replacing Herald Tribune

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PARIS - The New York Times Co. has rebranded its Paris-based daily, the International Herald Tribune, as the International New York Times — a bid to lure readers abroad amid the upheaval of the digital era facing traditional newspapers.

Executives say the rechristening Tuesday aims to get the most out of its brand, and complete a gradual fusion of the newspapers' editorial staffs in recent years. The Times took control of the IHT a decade ago by buying the stake of its co-owner, The Washington Post.

Worldwide subscribers to the Herald Tribune — with a print circulation of 224,000 and distribution in about 135 countries — woke up Tuesday to a similar-looking newspaper. Novelties include a new masthead, enhanced Page 2, and opinion pieces by dozens of new international columnists.

Europe editor Richard W. Stevenson said the rebranding is really about going digital and reaching out to readers abroad.

"The real driver of what we're doing is a belief that there is a global, digital audience for the journalism that we do," Stevenson said in a recent interview at the newspaper's offices in the La Defence business district west of Paris. He pointed to the goal of converting visitors who get limited free access into paying customers.

"Right now, about 10 per cent of our digital subscribers are outside of the United States — but about 25 or 30 per cent of our digital audience comes from outside the United States," he said. "Right there, in the gap between people who are subscribers, and regular visitors to our site, there's an opportunity."

For the launch week, access to the international edition's website, global.nytimes.com, will be free, Stevenson said.

With many print publications facing competition from social media, bloggers, 24-7 international television newscasts and other outlets, the Times Co. has been shucking assets — notably The Boston Globe — to focus on a core business of becoming an online provider of news, comment, video and multimedia.

While the IHT's circulation has held up relatively well in recent years compared with some print publications, Stevenson said, "the reality is that print — across our industry, around the world — is a really tough business now."

The International Herald Tribune was the latest incarnation of a newspaper founded in Paris 126 years ago as the European edition of the New York Herald, which was a rival of the Times in the bruising mid-19th century New York newspaper industry. James Gordon Bennett Jr., son of the founder of the sensationalist and popular Herald, put to use new trans-Atlantic cable just as readers were spreading out by rail and steamship.

Over the years, the Herald Tribune became an ink-and-newsprint staple for U.S. expatriates and foreigners looking for a dose of Americana. For more than a century, it was one of the few distributors of English-language news — plus baseball scores, daily crosswords, and comic strips — to readers in far-flung corners of the globe. Recently, it has gained a strong niche in fashion coverage: Fashion editor Suzy Menkes is a doyenne of the Paris catwalks.

The newspaper's Parisian roots were epitomized in Jean-Luc Godard's immortal 1960 film "Breathless," with Jean Seberg as an American gamine "Golden Girl" who peddled it on the Champs-Elys�es while wearing a sweater bearing the Herald Tribune logo. Stevenson said Paris "is part of the DNA" of the newspaper, but "it's no secret that Paris is a very expensive place to do business."

The IHT's last edition Monday included a special insert section — with snapshots of its front pages announcing the death of Britain's Queen Victoria and founder Bennett; a headline on Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939; and photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Andy Warhol and George Clooney reading it.

The special insert in the first new edition Tuesday contained essays looking to the future.

"We all have a touch of nostalgia for the days gone by," Stevenson said. "The best way, though, to preserve those journalistic traditions — the best way for us to ensure that our readers continue to get what they expect from us — is for us to integrate (print and online) operations more fully."

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