074: Paris Herald by Al Laney

by Gerard


074: Laney, Al. Paris Herald: The Incredible Newspaper. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1947. 330 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 000: Computer science, information, and general works
  • 070: Documentary media, educational media, news media, journalism, and publishing
  • 074: Journalism and newspapers in France and Monaco

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. had lost a duel and couldn’t bare the shame of living in New York any more. He was a rich socialite who had had several brushes with public and personal shame and so decided to sail his yacht to Europe. He was already the publisher of the New York Herald and when he got to Paris, he launched a newspaper in Paris for expatriates in 1887. He was a man of extreme whim and wild ambition. He had a habit of firing reporters and copyreaders and then forgetting about it the next day. In the end, his paper helped to transform the Paris reporting scene and bring new life to Americans living abroad.

Al Laney’s Paris Herald primarily focuses on the period when Laney was working for the paper (1924 to 1930), but he does some digging to get the early history of the little paper that could. The newspaper’s headquarters on the Rue de Louvre was a bastion of merriment, torturously long nights, beer-fueled column writing, and all-around alacrity. Pieces would be written on the fly and many a reporter found themselves under pressure to get the news out before anyone else. Ralph Barnes, who became a brilliant war correspondent after he left Paris, got his first major stories covering Ederle’s historic English Channel swim and interviewing Charles Lindbergh after he completed his iconic flight across the Atlantic. Sparrow Robertson covered the sports scene, but his column often included large sections of him touring the bars in the city and relaying social news about his “Old Pals”.

Laney’s history of the paper is clearly colored by his experience there and he offers no footnotes or bibliography to back up some of his claims. In some ways, that lends itself to the charm of the book. It feels like you’re at his place and he’s just telling you stories of the old days, when men scrambled amidst a drunken crowd to get out the results of the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney boxing match of 1926 or when, on a hunch, they surmised before anyone else that Alfred Loewenstein (a titan of Belgian banking) had disappeared from his plane over the English Channel. The stories are fun but also a little bit sad. You can tell that all Laney wants back are the good old days of reporting and repartee. He understands that journalism is a business, but the camaraderie amongst the writers is anything but businesslike. If you get a chance, you should read this one. It’s a lot of fun and well worth the time.