Staff at French newspaper Liberation outraged at plan to transform it

Journalists at struggling French daily Liberation outraged by owners' revitalisation scheme

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 11:10am


Journalists at France's third-biggest national newspaper, Liberation, are reacting with fury at a surprise plan by the owners to try to turn around the struggling daily by transforming it into a "social network".

The owners also want to convert the multimillion-euro building currently rented by the newsroom in central Paris into an all-day cultural centre featuring a cafe, TV studio and business area to help start-ups.

We are a newspaper, not a restaurant, not a social network … not a bar

Outraged Liberation journalists vented their opposition to the plan on the cover of the weekend edition, which had the front-page headline: "We are a newspaper, not a restaurant, not a social network, not a cultural space, not a TV studio, not a bar, not a start-up incubator."

The staff voted on Sunday not to repeat a 24-hour strike they staged on Thursday upon learning of what the owners had in mind. Instead they vowed to fight against the "illegal" project in their newspaper's pages.

Started by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973 as a left-wing title, Liberation has been a mainstay on newsstands - especially in left-leaning Paris - with its emphasis on photos and sometimes militant stances.

But it has long trailed the more prestigious - Le Monde and Le Figaro dailies, and, with a circulation of just 100,000, it has been a loss-making enterprise for shareholders.

The press in France - as in many other Western countries - is suffering as the internet eats into readership and advertising, and state subsidies supporting it are often inadequate.

Last year, Liberation lost more than a million euros as sales of the paper plummeted 15 per cent - the biggest slide among French newspapers.

The three main owners of Liberation, businessman Edouard de Rothschild (of the famed banking family), real estate developer Bruno Ledoux, and the Italian wealth management group Ersel, say they hope their "innovative" plan will turn around its fortunes.

"Our project is the only viable solution for Liberation," Ledoux said on Saturday.

He criticised what he said was a "symptomatic" reflex to reject innovation among the paper's journalists, and warned: "If the staff refuse, Liberation won't have a future. What's at stake is its death."

The paper's staff are sceptical of Ledoux's claims, pointing out that he is the owner of the building rented by Liberation, and therefore in a position to make millions if he turfs the daily out after making it bankrupt.