Anyone at all familiar with the French daily Le Monde will want to look at this trenchant takeout by Frederic Filloux, who reports that he was informally approached about whether he might be interested in the editorship. He decided not to be interested because the paper’s present mess is so bad.
If people are shying away from jobs which until quite recently they might have killed to get, things must be bad. On Filloux’s view, the new owners aren’t very smart, the consultative procedures with the staff don’t work and the paper’s internet strategy is awful.
Filloux’s account prompts three quick observations:
- France discourages foreign ownership of its media. The disadvantage of that cultural stance is that the pool of people from whom the owners and directors of news media are drawn is very small. Le Monde has new owners who just don’t seem very experienced.
- Printing and distributing a newspaper in France costs a lot of money largely because of union restrictions. If those practices hadn’t been broken by Eddie Shah and Rupert Murdoch in Britain in the 1980s, London’s national papers might have looked like Le Monde does now.
- France is one of several European states which give the news media public subsidy. I can’t see that this makes much difference to whether or not a newspaper is pursuing a good online strategy (Le Monde isn’t). Subsidy might actually help to encourage journalists to believe that they don’t have to worry too much about rebalancing their journalism between print and online and helping to build a business model which sustains that. That’s the crucial stuff. And it depends on good decisions.