Journalists at France's prestigious daily face a dilemma

The facade of Le Monde's building in Paris. Photo taken from the metro by "Mademoiselle N"

The French daily newspaper Le Monde announced plans to lay off 130 staff, including some 90 journalists, in an economic reshuffle last week. The news did not go down well with the editorial staff, who today, for the first time in the newspaper's history, went on strike did not publish the newspaper. A stopped press occurred only once before, in 1976, when the staff did not publish for one day in solidarity with another people which had been sold to new ownership.

The directors of the daily paper have also envisaged the sale of several of the group's titles, including Cahiers du Cinema. They said that the scheme would save them 15 million euros over two years in order to return them to financial stability by 2009. The resulting strike on the part of the employees shows an industry, endangered by the suffocating forces of free newspapers and the internet, at the end of its tether.

"There have never been any forced redundancies at Le Monde"

Patrick Eveno is a press historian specialised in Le Monde's storied history. Lecturer at the Sorbonne, he's also the author of the book History of Le Monde Newspaper, 1944 - 2004.

The journalists at Le Monde are in a paradoxical situation. They're the primary shareholders of the paper because they hold 22% of the capital, so collectively they have an interest in the financial success of the company. They're quite aware that a business cannot continue to run with losses of 7 -15m each year. But from an individual point of view, they feel threatened by the redundancies.

This is the first ever strike since Le Monde was established. So it's an historic event. There were plans to strike in 1951 when journalists got together to defend the founder of the paper, Hubert Beuve-Méry, against shareholders. But they won their case and finally the strike wasn't necessary. It was this victory that led to journalists having a stake in the company's shares.

The journalists are very well protected. There have never been any forced redundancies at Le Monde; only voluntary departures, which are always financially advantageous. The average salary is around €60,000 a year - they're the best paid out of the French dailies. However, you can't say that they're over privileged. These people are generally experienced journalists; their average age is 40. They are not as well paid a those at TF1 [a commercial French TV channel].

I think it was a mistake to force Colombani [former boss of Le Monde] to leave [in 2005]. He had the only viable solution, which was to create a group of diverse media (internet, TV, radio), as El Pais did in Spain. It's the only way for a daily to make a profit while keeping its independence.

Now, they're selling the publications that they consider don't fit with their brand, like a monthly dance magazine, or certain activities that aren't directly associated with the press, like their bookshops. It's not a bad idea, but the revenue won't come back to where it's needed."

"They announced the job cuts just as they were about to hand out bonuses"

Olivier Dumons is a journalist at lemonde.fr. On strike today, he's spending the day at Le Monde where they're having meetings.

I'm employed by Le Monde interactif, which is a subsidiary company of Le Monde. In theory we're not affected by these plans. But on Friday I organised a general assembly to make arrangements for solidarity action with our colleagues at Le Monde. We decided that not one article from the paper would be published on the site today. And fifteen of the journalists at the website, including me, also decided to go on strike.

 

We're all well aware that an economic plan is in need, which will certainly include some redundancies. But the management came out with these plans in a brutal manner, without even consulting the unions. And they're not very informative. They've hardly told the employees anything, even though they know precisely where the job cuts will be. How can they keep up the paper's quality with only three quarters of the team? What will their editorial strategy be? In the end, they've managed this clumsily. They announced the job cuts just as they were about to hand or bonuses. It's really badly handled. I think everyone at Le Monde is aware of the dismissals; it's how they'll be handled that's important now. The unions are making it clear that they're not going to make it easy."

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