For Groupe Lagardère, the shift to digital will be a long, long journey. Currently the n°1 media conglomerate in France, it is getting only 3% of its revenue from the Internet. In 2012, Lagardère wants to reach 10% to 12%. We are not there yet. Last week, the journalists of two of Lagardère major publications, the newsweekly Paris Match and the one day-a-week daily le Journal du Dimanche, voted by a landslide majority of respectively 95% and 92% to stop working for their website, pending further negotiations. They are invoking “money” and “conditions of production”.
Both arguments are bogus, to put it gently. Most employees of these two publications do not kill themselves on the job. They have time to write books, to appear on talk shows, etc. They get paid fairly well compared to the French newspaper industry average. For star reporters at Paris Match, managing extravagant expenses can be more time consuming than writing stories. And when I say writing, I’m being literal: several of them don’t even type. Yep, the digital world is a far away nebula. For the Journal du Dimanche (JDD), its a daily (quite a good one, actually) hitting the streets once a week. In fact, hitting the streets is figure of speech since most of the newsstands are closed on Sundays, and finding the paper is a game of chance of chance, or having the right neighborhood Tunisian grocer. It recently prelaunched its website, without earthshaking results (around 800,000 UV). As far as Groupe Lagardère, its stock lost 42% in one year
Lagardère Group journalists don’t have anything else to worry about? Of course they do — or should. Lagardère hosts the widest range of political conflicts of interest ever seen in media group. Let set aside the fact that most of the cash flowing to the mother company comes from the taxpayer: Lagardère is a major defense contractor. Let’s concentrate on the publishing arm. Most of the news operations is about to be put under one man. Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, 71, is just out of the main radio network Europe 1. He’s a long time member of the political milieu (he was already deeply esconced into the cozy French nomenklatura when Leonid Brejnev was ruling the Soviet Union). For almost ten years, Mr. Elkabbach was also the chairman of Public Senat, the private TV network of the French Senate. (Each time he had to campaign for his mandate, he used its morning slot of Europe 1 for gentle interviews with key senators). Now, he wants to control all news-related properties of Lagardère. That, I think, should be way more concerning for Lagardère journalists than the cut they of the small Internet revenues they are trying to get, or the “conditions de production” for the websites.
When politics are involved, Lagardère is careful to hedge its bets. At the upper level, management involves former staff members of different government cabinets. And, as a spokesperson, he got a street-smart guy named Ramzy Khiroun. The gent is parked at Lagardère while his former boss, the socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is orbiting as the general manager of the IMF pending a re-entry in the next presidential election. Mr. Khiroun is actually working hard on preserving his relationship with the journalists community — a little bit at his boss’ expense. Regarding the Internet conflict, he said “Questions by [Lagardère’s] journalists are legitimate”. Well, actually, he is wrong. The questions are totally misplaced. –FF