The Modern Expatriate Newsfeed


One of my great pleasures during a lifetime of overseas travel has been sitting in a sidewalk café and reading the International Herald Tribune. I can enjoy the foreign-ness of the place but still be transported away as I slowly turn the pages and focus on “home.” I check the sports scores, check the stock market, check out the big events of the day before and note what’s happening not just at home but all over the world.

But… newspapers are dying. You can still “Read all about it!” but if you do – read all about it – you will likely be reading it online.

Times have changed; we used to learn about current events in neatly folded pages of newsprint but that is rare these days. We go after the news in different ways or in different places than we did 25 years ago. Cable news, personal computers and the Internet have changed everything about how the news is gathered, distributed, and received.

25 years ago if I wanted to watch TV in Paris I had to have a firm grasp of the French language. Today I can watch CNN, Bloomberg News, CNBC, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, and France English – all in English. Or I can go to my computer, connect to the Internet and listen to NPR stream the news from my local FM station in Seattle.

I’ve been living and traveling overseas for most of the last 50 years. For generations we, American travelers, got our daily dose of the news from the International Herald Tribune. Knowledgeable travelers and expats around the world relished their hour spent drinking café au lait in sidewalk cafés while pouring over the IHT. In Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises the first thing Jake Barnes does when he returns to France from Spain is buy a copy of the Herald Tribune and read it in a sidewalk café.

Sixteen pages of distilled information about international events. Real news. International news. No provincial stuff. Some regular columns – political commentary by James Reston and Walter Lippmann, humor from Art Buchwald and Russell Baker or Jon Winroth’s wine column – but no puff pieces. Just smart no-nonsense reporting with an American slant for an American abroad.

I loved the Herald Tribune. Founded in 1887, it had various iterations of the name over time – Paris Herald, Paris Herald Tribune, The International Herald Tribune, and since 2013 the International New York Times. It will always be the Herald Tribune to me but it is not the same newspaper it used to be.

When I was living in France in 1970, it felt impossibly self indulgent to splurge 5 Fr. francs ($1) for a newspaper every day, but I did it and it was a ritual I couldn’t give up. My wife and I planned our day around it. Each day at 4 o’clock we walked from our small rented cottage on Rue Jean Aicard to a kiosk on the quay at St. Tropez, bought the IHT, walked a few steps across the cobbles to our favorite bar café, sat down, ordered two glasses of the local rose’, and divided up the paper. It was a delicious hour.

St Tropez Quay

Forty-four years later I’m back in France. A lot has happened since then. The daily habits of expats and locals have changed dramatically. The sidewalk café tables have been taken over by smokers. Since 2007 it has been illegal to smoke in enclosed spaces open to the public, so the smokers have moved outside and now it is almost impossible for the rest of us to enjoy a smoke-free lunch or leisurely drink at an outside table. I end up looking around, wetting my finger and hoisting it in the air to decide if I can get upwind from the smoker at the table next door. Most likely I will have smokers on both sides, so the wind check doesn’t mean much. Some of the smokers are old-fashioned newspaper readers but more often than not it’s their iPad or smartphone that delivers the news. Times and habits have changed

Sidewalk cafe

The Internet and cable news are responsible for most of the change. Newspapers are not as nimble as the networks and websites at real time reportage. The downside for news junkies is that investigative reporting has been cutback. Newspaper subscriptions supported the capital structure of news organizations and allowed them to allocate resources to investigative journalism. Fewer subscriptions means less money for investigative reporting. We should all be sorry about that. With trusted newspapers folding up we have to be more vigilant about where we get our newsfeed and whom we trust to give it to us straight.

At 3.00 Euros ($4.20) per copy the International New York Times is a little out of my comfort zone now. I think twice about the purchase. I still enjoy digging through it, but at that price I can buy an excellent, recently released trade paperback every three days at Shakespeare & Company. In Saigon I bought the IHT Weekend Edition from a gnarled old street vendor every Saturday. He would see me walking in his direction, take the IHT from the inventory of periodicals he had neatly laid out on the sidewalk, jump to his feet, and hold it out for me. It was a weekly good deed for me to support him and I savored the paper. But, I was living and working there then, and the paper, luxury that it was, added value as a work tool. Maybe I’ll try it here and see if it works. I do miss the decades long ritual.

There is sense of loss when changed circumstances take away a product or place that is fondly remembered. Les Halles, the Paris wholesale market, is gone now, replaced by an ugly underground shopping mall and sunken garden that no one likes, and my daily ritual with the Herald Tribune has changed. Reston, Lippmann, and Buchwald are all dead now, replaced by Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd. They don’t have the same gravitas as their predecessors. Is Maureen Dowd the humor columnist now? She has a satirical vinegar wit, but she’s no Buchwald, and even though the international edition has special columnists on fashion, design and food, the feel of the paper has changed.

Change is good and in many ways today’s expats have newsfeeds that are superior to their earlier reliance on the Herald Tribune as the primary source. I love the new technology and devices. I can’t live without them, and I wince when friends my age tell me that they can’t or don’t want to deal with learning how to use a smartphone, or figure out the Googly world we live in. If you don’t understand it and adapt, the world will leave you behind. Suck it up guys. This is the new world.

It’s supposed to be sunny this weekend, so I think I’ll find an outside table in the sun, buy the International New York Times and see how it feels. $4.20 a week isn’t too bad if it’s only once a week. The coffee costs nearly $5, so it’s a $10 morning with my coffee and newspaper. It’s ALMOST like the old days.


  1. As a fellow IHT junkie, I relate to your latest blog deep in my gut. How will we ever be able to enjoy those powerful French lattes (nothing compares in the States) without a fresh copy of the IHT in hand, ink-stained fingers and all? Not to mention the flakey, buttery croissant that goes with all the aforementioned (and they haven’t changed at all – I hope).

    Keep up the good reporting work Jack so we can get our vicarious jollies from time to time.

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