Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 09:23:25 AM EST
(See Crisis at Libération - Part One
and Crisis at Libération - Part 2 (The Beginnings)).
|By 1981, Sartre was dead and the purists of the early days had long left. (Of the original "team" of fifty in 1973, only seven remained to take part in the 1981 new formula). Serge July stated that leftism and the counter-culture no longer had anything to contribute. What was left but social democracy?|
Libération new formula started a few weeks after the demise of Libé One. A couple of months later François Mitterand became President of the Republic. Serge July backed Mitterand and the Socialist Party. Social democracy it was.
<-------- Serge July with the number announcing Mitterand's victory in May 1981.<p>
The newspaper was now an enterprise - not like any other, since the workers collectively still owned the newspaper, in principle, but an enterprise all the same, with a limited liability company form (SARL), and the aim of running a profit. There were lay-offs to reduce costs. There was a management team that had the formal right to manage. Finance other than appeals to public subscription was sought, and advertising soon made its appearance in the pages of the paper. It was "the guarantee of our future independence", wrote July.
The '80s were fairly good to the new version of Libé. Without becoming an establishment paper, it was all the same very well-introduced. The mix of good journalism with a still-impertinent and often outspoken style gradually won it a place as N° 2 paper on the left of the spectrum after Le Monde. It never became, though, the daily of the masses that it had at first dreamed of becoming. Circulation rose to nudge the 200,000 mark, which was comfortable (for France), but didn't make it a popular press outlet. It was mostly read by baby boomers with vaguely leftish sentiments, students and intellectuals, those who might loosely fit into the "bo-bo" category, the bohemian bourgeois. There was considerable failure there - the early hopes were forgotten - but considerable success too, in that establishing an independent daily on the left is no easy thing to do.
However, a great deal rests on that word "independent". Advertising was going to guarantee independence, said July; but in 1983, he built a financial holding to bring in new investors. The new investors are well-known businessmen (Jean and Antoine Riboud, Gilbert Trigano of the Club Med, Claude Alphandéry). They may be "centre or centre-left" in their opinions, they are big bosses and this is a far, far cry from Libé's beginnings. July and his team were bitterly criticised by those who had left earlier, for having reneged on their principles.
The fact is that, from that point on, independence was not guaranteed. Every so often, the paper - constantly out to increase its appeal and attract readers by adding pages and supplements - hit new financial difficulties and called on outside capital to fill the coffers. Possibly the Mitterand years were dangerous, because financiers and businessmen favourable to the president personally and/or politically could easily be persuaded to support Libération. Which they did, of course, by buying a piece of the equity. And, bit by bit, the workers' ownership of the publication was diluted.
Between 1983 and 1996, 80% of the capital of Libé passed from the hands of the personnel to the hands of outside capitalists (Pierre Rimbert, Libération, de Sartre à Rothschild).
Circulation fell as disillusion set in during Mitterand's second term (1988-95). In 1994 Libé launched a new 70-page edition (Libération III) that flopped and had to be cut back. As a result, in 1995, July negotiated a fresh influx of capital from Jean Riboud and Jérôme Seydoux, both already important shareholders. Seydoux would remain the major "capital partner" for the next ten years.
Libé began Internet operations early, and its site now gets around 150,000 daily visits. It's not a subscriber site and brings in only advertising revenue. Meanwhile, (and the one may partly explain the other), as Web operations rose in importance, circulation of the hard-copy paper flagged: from about 170,000 at the end of the nineteen-nineties to perhaps 130,000 today.
Seydoux and the other historic "friends of Mitterand" investors had reached the end of their tether. They would remain shareholders, but July had lost their trust with the Libé III flop and they declined to supply any more losing money. In 2005, July persuaded a new capitalist to come in with €20 m : Edouard de Rothschild, a (predestined) banker who said he would like to branch out into something different. Within a few months, the €20 m had gone into plugging previously unsuspected gaps. Rothschild refused to cough up any more without cost reduction including lay-offs. Serge July found himself incapable (for the first time) of selling the line to the personnel that yet more changes had to be accepted for the good of the paper. Seeing he couldn't carry Rothschild's water, Rothschild got rid of him. It was prettied up and July got to write a tear-jerker about it, but that was the simple truth. Twenty-three years after bringing the first investors into a newspaper that was at first defined as outside "private capital, banks, and advertising" (Sartre), July brought in the last and biggest, who promptly gobbled him up.
Now about to begin: Edouard de Rothschild has taken total control of Libé. The leading figures of 2005 have gone. The company that collectively represents the personnel has lost its power of veto (its last remaining power). A new director/managing editor, Laurent Joffrin (unquestionably on the left) has a remit that focuses on getting the business on the right financial rails by 2008. There will be more cost reduction and very considerable lay-offs. Joffrin has outlined a plan to cut jobs by 76, of which 40 among journalists. This is rejected by the staff, and strike notice has been given for Monday, 4th December.
So, on the left though Joffrin may be, the newspaper is still in crisis, and its future freedom to speak clearly hangs by a thread. Perhaps the editorial staff feels like testing the limits, because they just (Wednesday evening) leaked the interview Sarkozy had given to the regional press, in which he announced his presidential candidature. This was meant to be a "surprise" -- Libé turned it into a surprising floperoo. And the language of front-page articles about Sarko has been particularly scathing. But how long will it last?
Edouard de Rothschild, on France2 TV News afew weeks ago: "I think it's rather an utopian view to want to differentiate between editorial staff and the shareholder."
Rothschild is not a "friend of Mitterand", but a "friend of Sarkozy". It would be outrageous (and impossible) for him to force the paper to support Sarkozy's electoral campaign. But the strongest remaining voice among French dailies that could clearly oppose Sarkozy now seems likely to have to mute its criticism or disappear.
Is this the end of the adventure, or did it end in 1981?