Boys play war. One of our favorite games was called, unimaginatively, “Who can die the neatest?” You’d grab your broomstick rifle, run toward the enemy trenches, get cut down by a bunch of other kids yelling, “Pow!” and then begin a long stagger of choreographed anguish until you collapsed, a goner.
French newspapers play the game better than we did. Reader John Williamson alerted me to this magnificent piece of reporting by Ben Hall in the Financial Times on the slow-mo death of Le Monde, the paper of record if you’re a left-wing élitist French person. A click-free sample:
Le Monde is France’s biggest-selling national daily. But it sold only 359,000 copies a day in 2007, less than half the circulation of Ouest France, which is the country’s best-seller and testament to the relative health of the regional press….
Le Monde’s problems stem to a significant extent from its dogged defence of its autonomy. Jean-Marie Colombani, its former editor, tried to secure Le Monde’s future by building a diversified press group around it. “This manoeuvre failed because some purchases were not well thought through strategically,” says Michel Kajman, deputy editor. “We became heavier and more indebted.”
Lacking resources, the paper sought a partnership with Lagardère to develop its website. The venture has been a commercial success, with lemonde.fr the most visited French news site and profitable too. But the website is owned separately and union representatives complain it is simply creaming revenues from the paper.
Other journalists, however, say it is the recalcitrance of the staff association, with its strong anti-capitalist streak, that has pushed the paper to the brink of disaster. “There are some people who find it very natural to ask investors to pay but find it very difficult to accept that they are entitled to some return, however modest,” Mr Kajman says.
Other journalists say the resistance of colleagues to job losses is pushing the paper closer to insolvency and the very loss of control that they are fighting to defend. “If we were taken over by Lagardère, which has big defence interests and whose boss is a friend of Sarkozy, it would be the death of Le Monde,” says one of its senior reporters.