French newspaper Libération needs 'major restructuring', job losses inevitable, says shareholder; Bruno Ledoux, who holds 26% of company, pushing plan for diversified trademark with social network and cultural center, which sparked February strike
March 7, 2014
– A "major restructuring" at French left-leaning daily newspaper Libération with the loss of journalists' jobs is inevitable, one of its main shareholders has warned.
Bruno Ledoux also refused to back down on plans to create a diversified Libération trademark, with cultural centre and social network, that sparked a staff strike last month.
Speaking at a 'master class' at the Institut Européen de Journalisme (IEJ) on Thursday, Ledoux, who holds 26% of shares in the newspaper, said he hoped to raise €12m this month to develop the title. The money, he said, would come from "three or four French entrepreneurs" who have not until now invested in the press.
However, he cautioned: "The day of the press patron is finished. A press business has to think of itself as an ordinary business, otherwise it's finished."
Ledoux's comments came three weeks after Libération editor Nicolas Demorand resigned after journalists went on strike in opposition to the shareholders' vision of the future of the title. Demorand said the paper was "in crisis" and he was going because he suspected he was part of the problem.
Journalists had earlier downed tools after learning of the plan to revamp the paper's Paris headquarters into a conference venue and cultural centre in association with the designer Philippe Starck.
Staff responded by producing a front page declaring: "We are a newspaper … not a restaurant, not a social network, not a cultural space, not a television studio, not a bar and not an incubator for startups".
Asked about the hostility of Libération staff to his plans, Ledoux, who made his fortune in property development, replied: "Everything that is new causes a bit of fear at Libé … but ideas are changing".
He added: "Those who are against (the plans) aren't obliged to stay. The paper does not belong to the journalists. We are not in the Soviet Union."
He criticised journalists who he said "produced one article a month" or who "refuse to write for the web" or on subjects that were not in their field.
"We have to change the culture … to be a more efficient organisation," he told journalism students.
"But it's not journalists against shareholders or visa-versa, which is absurd. We are together in this project. To me, this culture of opposition is baffling."
He said the plans, that included the possibility of creating a Libé television and radio, did not threaten the paper.
"It's complementary. The newspaper is at the heart of the system. To get rid of the paper would be a serious error, because that would get rid of all the legitimacy (for the plan). If Libération disappeared tomorrow, there wouldn't be another Libération … but the idea of only a newspaper is finished," he said.
Ledoux's comments will anger journalists at the newspaper, co-founded by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973. They say the shareholders' proposals trade on the Libération name, but make no mention of "journalism".
Nicolas Cori, a journalist and union representative at the newspaper told the Guardian at the time, staff were "extremely worried" about their future and that of the paper.
"The shareholders have the money but no interest in journalism. All we are saying is talk to us about journalism and we can talk."
Demorand's resignation came after several votes of no confidence in the editor and months of negotiations over proposals to put the paper's online edition behind a pay wall, to reduce staff, introduce party-time working hours and earlier deadlines, that ended in stalemate.
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