Nov 14

The real and the worst damage done by state press subsidies

fontenelle-editocratesAs the printed press has struggled to cope with the end of an era of plenty and the collapse of the newspaper business model, the odd voice has played with the idea of subsidising the press. Here’s why that might be an idea to be briefly considered, but it’s also one to reject.

After all, such would-be saviours of the endangered species of printed news ask, don’t we all subsidise the BBC, to the tune of £4bn a year, through a licence fee which is a tax by another name? Do papers not enjoy a tax break by not paying VAT? Don’t other European countries do this and don’t they manage fine?

Not in France they don’t. Journalist Sebastien Fontenelle has just been having another go at newspaper and magazine subsidies there and bringing the story up to date. As he rightly remarks, major newspapers like Le Monde and Figaro use a lot of ink telling the state and government to reduce government spending and debt while hypocritically burying the figures on the subsidies they receive and doing nothing to abolish or reform the system.

Official figures show that the France spent €5bn between 2009 and 2011, amounting to 15% of the industry’s turnover. You might imagine that this money was distributed to high-minded but loss-making publications on politics and economics. In 2013, nearly €20m was handed to the four magazines devoted to TV listings and small screen celebs.

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Jan 11

Filloux on Le Monde

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:
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Oct 10

Lessig, El Pais, science reporting and Filloux

Occasionally I have to collect a series of bits and pieces into a roundup/catchup because I can’t find a thematic string on which I can thread the beads I’ve collected. This is one of those posts.

  • Of all the media stories across the globe in the past week, the hedge-fund pair who have taken a rescuing and controlling stake in the debt-crippled Prisa group, whose flagship is the Madrid daily El Pais and which operates throughout the Spanish-speaking world, look like the most important. The background history is here and a look at the new owners is here. “Industry agnostic” owners who don’t want to be media moguls have a mixed history with news media. They can be hands-off and allow the talent to flourish. But, because news media isn’t just another business like soap manufacture or semiconductors, hands-off can mean disconnected and under-informed. We’ll see.
  • Whether or not you see “The Social Network”, the movie about the creation (and subsequent lawsuits) of Facebook, read Lawrence Lessig’s reflection on the film.
  • I was on a panel a few months back with the science blogger Martin Robbins. Most of what he said seemed to make sense to me. The other day he wrote a blog post spoofing science reporting which deservedly went viral. This is his more serious – and more useful – follow-up.
  • There was a neatly-angled Monday Note this week from Frederic Filloux comparing the recent dealings of two papers, Le Monde and the Daily Telegraph, with their respective governments over leaks.
  • Lastly, a short shameless blast of the trumpet for my City University colleague Ann McFerran, who last night organised a panel discussion on the lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. If you enjoy reading discussions reported in Twitter fragments, it’s here. Roy Greenslade has summarised the debate here. (Disclosure: both Greenslade and I teach at City).

Jun 10

Le Monde: this time it’s serious

Without comment, the briefing from this week’s Monday Note by the ever-trenchant Frederic Filloux on the approaching hour of truth at Le Monde. If not rescued, the paper will run out of cash in two weeks. As Frederic says, its situation is emblematic of the entire French press.

Two major European publishing groups drop out of the bidding when they see the numbers…Sarkozy interferes…government subsidies disguised the extent of the crisis. A horror story from any angle.


Dec 09

Red, black and angry

Mood music and signs of the times from Andrew Jaspan, ex-editor of the Melbourne Age, who worked as a consultant on the recent relaunch of the French daily, Libération. The paper, founded in the heady days of student insurrection in the 1960s, had grown old and jaded along with the generation of soixanthuitards (“68ers”) and its once cool red and black design now looks soooo twentieth century.

Jaspan’s first suggestion was simply that the paper should stop being “red, black and angry”. His second, he told a session of the WAN-IFRA congress, was to suggest that the journalism looked for ways “forward” for its society and didn’t just whinge about problems. And in line with the gradual magazinification of newspapers, he suggested that they banish completely the word “yesterday”.  That last one really is a sign of the times.