Thursday, December 20, 2007

Le Monde Crisis

David Bell the other day was kind enough to cite this blog as "a good example of how the Internet has been transforming the news media." There is no doubt that the Internet is a powerful solvent, but is it also corrosive? The question is raised by Daniel Schneidermann's comment on the latest crisis at Le Monde. As I mentioned yesterday, the paper's on-line unit is making money while the traditional paper is losing money. But of course this is an accounting fiction created by corporations and contracts, even if it does result in real flows of cash (in the case of Le Monde Interactif into the pockets of Arnaud Lagardère). The "interactive" paper (which is scarcely more interactive than the paper version, unless you're among the handful of people who comment on articles) depends entirely on the staff of the traditional paper for its distinctive content. The rest is wire-service dispatches and fluff. There is no "value added," and in some respects there is value taken away. So it would be a shame if the apparent profitability of the new formula were to decimate the staff of the old paper because the profits from the on-line operation are not appropriately shared.

I say this as a consumer of the on-line version. Obviously I could not maintain this blog without the many electronic sources, including Le Monde, that have made it possible for an observer in the US to be on top of breaking news in France. I remember the days when I had to trudge down to Harvard Square to buy my Le Monde 3 days late; I remember subscribing to the édition hébdomadaire, printed on flimsy onion skin and shorn of 3/4 of the news; and I am still usually a day or two ahead of some of my colleagues at the Center for European Studies, who, as men of their generation, read the stale printed news in the paper edition still displayed in the building's lobby. Nevertheless, I am acutely aware that the news that is now so rapidly disseminated still requires journalists to compile and make sense of it.

The recent proliferation of on-line sources in France, and the continuing financial crises at several major papers, suggest that we are in the midst of a change whose end point is not at all clear to me. I have already expressed my doubts about Edwy Plenel's launch of a new paid on-line-only news outlet, MediaPart. Its staff, though made up of distinguished journalists, is small, and its focus has been described as both "generalist" and "investigative," which are hardly the same thing. It seems unlikely that MediaPart can replace Le Monde. Nor can Le Monde replace itself with an on-line-only operation.

So who will pay for the news? Because if no one pays, we are likely to be reading a good deal more about presidential outings to Disneyland and audiences with the pope and a good deal less about decisions of the European Court like the one in the Laval Case (which, as the previous post makes clear, I should have read more carefully than I did--but then, as David Bell pointed out, my labor is bénévole, so I relied imprudently on someone who was paid to do the job, whose biases I failed to take into account).


kirkmc said...

One reason newspapers are failing in France is because of their cost. I don't know how much Le Monde costs today, but it's something like EUR 1.25. I gave up on it and other papers years ago, because it's simply too expensive. I am of the age where I would like to have a daily paper, however, but the French ones just price themselves out of the market. I could even get the Herald Tribune cheaper, but that's still a few hundred EUR per year.

This is, of course, a vicious circle: high prices, fewer readers, and higher prices to pay for the fact that there are fewer readers. But French papers have never - at least in the two decades I've been in the country - really tried to change enough to make themselves cheaper and more worthwhile. For example, both Le Monde and Libération are printed with fonts too small for many of us non-young readers to read easily.

I say too bad for them, though it's too bad for everyone who benefits from good printed press. The problem, like often in this country, is that the newspapers are run with superannuated ideas and simply can't exist in a world more modern than they are. (This said, it seems that Le Figaro is still doing OK, and, of course, Ouest France is thriving.)


Anonymous said...

... and to add on the top the previous comment, printing and distribution are still controlled by unions (especially CGT). Totally outdated. We inherited this from the outcome of WWII... Times have changed since.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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