Mediapart shows independent news is possible and even profitable, says Edwy Plenel

The investigative online newspaper Mediapart enters its 11th year with a growing paid readership, a healthy balance sheet, and its twin pillars of independence and diversity fully intact, co-founder and publishing editor Edwy Plenel told the AAPA on January 9.

When Mediapart was launched 10 years ago on March 16, 2008, virtually no-one - apart from the founders and the 25 staff- believed a paying online news service could survive. In those days, the received wisdom was that news on internet had to be free.

They were wrong. Mediapart’s net profit rose to about 2.5 million euros last year from 1.9 million euros in 2016, its profit margin is higher than that of The New York Times, and subscribers now stand at some 140,000—having approached 150,000 during the French presidential election campaign last year.

Plenel’s editorial policy is selection. Whether scoops, analyses or a new perspective, stories have to represent value-added to those seen elsewhere. Insistence on diversity, which clashes with the prevalent single-identity principle, is another element « at the heart of our success. » The « affaire des affaires », which still has to be revealed in full, is Libyan funding for Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign in 2007, Plenel said. This will depend on how far the justice system will take the case, he added.

He recognized that Mediapart over-reacted in its scrap with Charlie Hebdo over Islam. « It is out of the question » for two independent newspapers « to be at war », especially when one has « paid (for its independence) with blood. » Plenel also regretted the silence from other media when former Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Mediapart should be « left out of the debate. »

The site carries no advertising, has no financial backers, no debt and since 2010 has received no subsidies from either the French government or Google, unlike other French media. It now has a staff of about 80, but will soon have a new editorial director, as present incumbent and co-founder François Bonnet will stand down this year. He said at the beginning that a decade would be his limit. The staff have until March to endorse, or not, Plenel’s candidate to succeed him.

« We have to hand over to a new generation to build the rest of the adventure, » Plenel said.

His advice for any other news start-ups is to have enough cash to pay decent salaries for the first three years. This helped Mediapart to break even for the first time after only two and a half years, and Plenel to finish paying off his personal loan to the bank last December 31.

To mark its 10th anniversary, Mediapart will hold a two-day event on March 16-17 at the 104 cultural centre in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. The event will begin with an international conference on « The Right to Know » and follow with films, debates and exhibitions on the 17th.

For more information about our 90 minutes with Plenel, we will flag stories written by members who were there.

-Barbara Casassus

-Photos: Thomas Haley

 


Machines Aren’t Our Friends, Media Moguls Tell AAPA

In this new industrial age, machines are going after white collar jobs...brain power jobs. In the words of Hilary Clinton, "Machines are not our friends." That thought was echoed by Fred Raillard & Farid Mokart at a breakfast gathering for the AAPA in the Paris headquarters of their media company FF Creative Community on December 12. “Regulations are the only thing that will save us,” Fred added, referring to the need to steady the pace of the rapidly changing tech environment.

As their comms director, Jalila Levesque, told us, Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart are a duo of multi-awarded advertising creatives, professional soulmates, entrepreneurs, and angel investors. They've made an outstanding international career in the ad industry in Paris, London and San Francisco. In 2007 they founded FF, an independent creative boutique network based in Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai and Paris. This creative boutique network is specialized in strategic brand platforms, social media content, tech, and creativity.

F&F see the relationship between customers and companies changing: "Customers are actually buying the company and its reputation," says Fred. "They want transparency. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) dominates their communications space. Social media changed everything - companies cannot advertise by buying space in social media; they have to deserve to be there."

To this end, F&F showed us several TV commercials they had made for clients: those for HP emphasized not selling printers and equipment, but the company's push for diversity and overcoming prejudice in hiring practices.  A campaign for Louis XIII Cognac - whose brand is based on heritage and the century it takes to create the beverage - was based around a film which would not be shown for 100 years, starring quirky American actor John Malkovitch. The campaign included a "non-opening" in Hollywood and a ceremony locking the film away in a vault to be opened in 100 years. Press coverage was enormous.

"The Red Bull community is all about courage, action, a community of crazy people doing crazy things, so in this space they can sell anything," they said, as an example of today’s company-customer community.  Farid emphasized that most brands don't have a community vision because they are too focused on money. "HP understood that their product - technology - is a means, not a meaning, so they were able to align a creative sense of belonging going beyond just buying a product," he added

Journalists should be using social media to create their own community around their stories. "Embrace a dialogue," said Fred, "rather than a monologue. Start your story with a few lines to engage readers with the story." Farid pointed out that Instagram is a good format for luxury goods, reliant on visuals; TV works for basic consumer goods, and Twitter for retail and engaging dialogue. "And think about using video," they both said. "Even when you're doing an interview, take out your smartphone and film at least part of it."

FF is an international creative community of 400+ people from 25+ nationalities. The group has produced campaigns for 100+ brands like Air France, Audemars Piguet, Audi, Coca-Cola, Diesel, Giorgio Armani, Google, Guerlain, HP, Lacoste, Louis XIII, Martini, Orangina, Porsche, Saint Laurent, Schweppes, Société Générale, Tao Bao, Tmall, Van Cleef & Arpels, Vivo, YouK and, Wrangler. Under its founding principles of ideas, emotions and passion, FF has won 800+ creative and effectiveness awards, and 25 agency honors.

-Shellie Karabell

 

 


Diplomat Briefs AAPA on Franco-American Relations

One year after the election of Donald Trump to the White House, relations between France and the United States remain “extremely good”, and are underpinned by military cooperation between the two countries, a senior French diplomat told the AAPA on Nov. 17.

“The relationship between France and the U.S. has never been so intense in military terms,” the official told the group of nearly 40 AAPA members at a meeting once again generously hosted in the auditorium of Bloomberg News.

France and the U.S. are fighting together on many fronts, notably in Africa and the Middle East, and France is by far the “best and most reliable ally” of the U.S. among European countries, the diplomat said, speaking on background.

This is especially true because of Britain’s lack of involvement on the military front, and Germany is still reluctant to engage itself militarily, he went on.

The personal chemistry between French President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump is “actually quite good” according to the official, boosted by Macron’s invitation for Trump to attend the Bastille Day celebrations in mid-July. The two leaders, who were elected on “populist” platforms, have had several phone conversations, but there’s no indication that these calls will have political consequences, he said.

The diplomat discussed the Trump Administration’s efforts to modify the Iran nuclear deal,  its “antipathy” towards Iran and its unorthodox diplomacy with Saudi Arabia. He also commented on the looming threat of U.S. trade protectionism and its unintended consequences that could backfire on America’s own interests.

On North Korea, he said he’s convinced that President Trump, being the “ultimate pragmatist” wouldn’t balk at negotiating with the Koreans on reducing their nuclear ambitions.

And he said he’s not overly worried by the unilateral decision by the U.S. not to uphold the Paris climate accord, as most Americans in big urban centers feel favor it and there’s a huge market for renewable energy in the U.S.

-David Pearson

 

https://news-decoder.com/2017/11/pragmatic-france-forges-ties-u-s/

 

 

 

 


Seine Cruise Celebrates AAPA’s 110th Anniversary

To celebrate the 110th year of the AAPA’s founding, 85 members and their guests took to the water for a celebratory evening cruise on the Seine on Sept. 16.

Boarding the “Henri IV,” at the picturesque Pont Neuf, we were treated to plentiful food and drink. The champagne was flowing like water thanks to a stash of left-over bubbly from previous summer Galas.

Top-class entertainment was supplied for 90 minutes by Lithuanian-raised, America-educated jazz singer Viktorija Gečyté and her two accompanists, who did their best to overcome the poor acoustics and the lively conversations of our excited mariners.

The rain held off right to the end, allowing us to sit on the open top deck with our refreshments, admiring historic Parisian landmarks and being admired by envious landlubbers as we shuttled back and forth for over two hours between the “real” Statue of Liberty and the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand.

In his address to the party-goers, AAPA President David Pearson reviewed some of the big news events from 1907, some of which are still relevant in today’s topsy-turvy political environment.

He recounted the origins of the association – the oldest journalists’ grouping in France – that year, when 16 British and nine American correspondents got together to create a club of like-minded people.

Over the decades, the AAPA’s regular, news-making meetings were must-attend events for English-speaking journalists based in Paris, and were frequently written up in the French press.

American singer Sophie Tucker, when asked the secret of her long life, replied: “Simple. Keep breathing.” Pearson said that’s what the AAPA has been doing for the past 110 years.

As a group, it’s able to serve up a smorgasbord of meetings with top officials, corporate leaders, and leading figures from the arts that journalists often can’t reach individually. And in recent years, it’s become a focal point for regular social events for members to meet up and exchange gossip and tips.

Long life to the AAPA!

 

-David Pearson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hachette CEO’s Downbeat View of the Book Market

The market for books whether print or digital should remain flat in the next three to five years and then decline slightly over the following decade, according to Arnaud Nourry, chairman and CEO of Hachette Livre.

But the picture could be bleaker, as books are holding up better than all other culture and entertainment sectors, he told the Association over an elegant lunch in the group’s two-year old head office in Vanves on Sept. 8.

The market decline will come as younger generations turn from reading to other forms of entertainment that will require publishers to be innovative and creative, said Nourry, who was promoted to his current post in 2003. “Almost all people read less than they used to,” he said. He is convinced that video games for mobiles hold the greatest potential for the future, which is why the group has bought three such studios in the past two years, Neon Play and Brainbow in the UK, and IsCool in France.

The e-book, which has never made serious inroads in France and is declining in the US and UK as a share of overall book sales, “is a stupid product,” he said. “It is the same as print—we (publishers) have been lazy, and need to go beyond the traditional format for telling stories.” This could include interactive books, formats combining print, video and sound.

Hachette Livre, part of the Lagardère media group, ranks third worldwide after Pearson and Bertlesmann for general public titles and textbooks, excluding the state-run Chinese conglomerates. Put another way, the group is 150 imprints around the world with 18,000 titles and 10 original languages. It has published or still publishes best-selling authors such as J.K. Rowling, Tom Wolfe, J.D. Salinger, Colette, Flaubert and Charles Darwin.

Nourry said he’s sanguine about the UK’s planned exit from the European Union (EU) in March 2019. He is not planning any changes in the way the group manages its international business for the moment, and will not revise the policy unless the UK’s economy unravels, which he does not believe will happen.

On the subject of online giants, he was more critical about Google than Amazon, against which he led and won a lengthy battle in 2014 for publishers to be able to set e-book prices. Amazon “is our leading customer, so it is not just a challenge or a problem (…) I concluded several years ago that book publishing would die if it lost control over (retail) prices.” A 1981 law in France piloted by then culture minister Jack Lang permits publishers to set prices and is generally recognized to have helped maintain cultural diversity and a solid network of about 3,000 independent booksellers in France.

Nourry was especially harsh about Google. “Amazon respects copyright, but Google does not,” and the latter has a huge team of lobbyists in Brussels trying to persuade the European Union to water down its copyright laws, Nourry said, adding that he would continue to resist pressure to weaken France’s particularly strict legislation on this score.

The prospect that marketing might supersede content would “be a nightmare,” he said. If online specialists used their Big Data to dictate which books publishers should produce, Hachette Livre would go it alone with its own platform using its databases now run by teams of dedicated specialists. He is less concerned about piracy. The music business collapsed because Apple’s iTunes started offering single tracks for 99 cents, not because of piracy, he said. Control over retail pricing is the key to survival in the culture and entertainment industries, he added.

The Hachette imprints are autonomous, but have guidelines that make ‘author care’ a top priority and also have unwritten rules about not publishing extremist or racist titles. Former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is writing his autobiography, and Nourry said he would take a dim view if any of the houses in the group planned to publish it. “Freedom to publish is in Hachette’s DNA,” but there has never been an internal policy wrangle about whether a book oversteps the mark in at least the past 40 years, he added.

Among emerging markets, the group is active in China, India and Russia, even though the first two do not have a big reading public, and is hesitant about going into Brazil. Nourry said he would reject the idea of censoring any books for the Chinese market, or anywhere else for that matter. Another important focus for Hachette Livre is the Arabic language market. At the moment, it operates in Morocco and Lebanon, publishing both in Arabic and French.

As for China’s entry into the International Publishers Association (IPA) last year, Nourry was very critical at the time in view of the country’s record in freedom to publish, which is the IPA’s mission to promote, and sees no reason to change his mind now. China was admitted to the organization under pressure from the UK, “I am not sure why,” he said. Since then, human rights in China have worsened, and more publishers and authors than ever are being arrested and imprisoned, he added.

 

-Barbara Casassus

 

 


Macron’s Labour Market Reforms Crucial: Medef Chief

President Emmanuel Macron represents the last chance to reform France's rigid labour market, but his reforms should not make the country end up like the US or the UK, Pierre Gattaz told AAPA members over breakfast at Medef headquarters on June 23.

“France won’t have another opportunity. Now we have no option,” the head of France's biggest employers’ federation said.

Gattaz and his fellow business leaders are pleased with Macron's economic programme, and back his plans to give bosses more power to negotiate conditions with workers at company level and to cap the severance pay awarded by labour courts. But the new president's plans have left some trade unions seething and warning of mass street protests. They fear the loss of workers’ rights and the power of the trade unions undermined.

Many of those who oppose the reforms fear they are a step towards a deregulated labour market along the lines of the US or Britain. But Gattaz said he did not see an ultra-liberal model as the right one for France.

“It’s too far from the French culture,” he said. “Maybe France will get there in 20 or 30 years’ time... but I don’t think it’s the right model." He believes France should aim for a “midway point” that ensures “flexibility and security” along the lines of the Danish model.

But one benefit of the UK model is that it creates high levels of employment, he said. “When you have a labour market that is blocked like that in France where there is 10 percent unemployment the balance of power favours companies," said Gattaz.

"But when you have a labour market with three percent unemployment like in London then it’s the workers who have the power. Because the workers can decide to quit their job if they don’t like it and find another one the next morning.”

The Medef leader warned that the far-right or the far-left could take power in the next presidential election if Macron does not create more flexibility in France’s labour market.

“If there are no reforms then in 2022 then we will have Marine Le Pen and (Jean-Luc) Mélenchon in the second round of the election,” he said.

-Rory Mulholland

 

 


AAPA MEMBERS FLOCK TO ANNUAL GARDEN PARTY

Dozens of AAPA members and their guests ignored a searing heatwave to gather for the association’s annual garden party, held on June 21 at the ornate residence of the U.S. ambassador.

Neither the muggy conditions nor the absence of the host ambassador – still to be named by the Trump Administration – could dampen the enthusiasm of the 58 members and guests who sipped champagne and exchanged banter in the 19th century Hôtel de Pontalba and its manicured gardens.

As AAPA President David Pearson quipped in his remarks, the unseasonable heat was a nice change from the rain that had kept everyone indoors at the 2016 affair.

Both speakers from the Paris diplomatic corps – Philip Frayne of the U.S. embassy and Giles Spence of the UK embassy – paid tribute to Stéphane Villeneuve, a French journalist killed in Iraq days earlier, while lauding the work of AAPA correspondents for their hard work in covering and interpreting the news.

Reviewing some of the momentous changes in the world over the past year, Pearson noted that there had been 15 terrorist incidents in France alone in the previous 12 months. Looking ahead, Pearson said he hoped the AAPA would be as dynamic over the next century as it had been in its first 110 years – a birthday celebrated this year.

Taking advantage of the historic ties between the Association and the U.S. mission, Pearson could not resist a good-natured dig at Frayne while introducing the outgoing U.S. embassy spokesman. “When I told Phil we would like him to say a few words, he asked me if he should try to be funny. I told him: ‘Nah. No need. Just be yourself.’”

Frayne wasted no time adding his own lighter note, quoting A.J. Liebling who before World War Two described a AAPA correspondent of that era, when foreign correspondents spent long hours at liquid lunches, as having a face “the precise color of the inside of a châteaubriand that is between rare and medium rare.”

Frayne also quoted a story in a 1945 edition of The New York Journal American on UK elections that brought down Winston Churchill’s government – a story by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose 100th birthday fell in 2017.

Spence -- Frayne’s counterpart at the UK embassy – underscored the close ties between his country and France despite Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

He said authorities in the two countries worked together to dismantle 38 human smuggling rings in 2016, and that the value of bilateral trade in 2015 was 78 billion euros.

And, he pointed out, the Taittinger champagne house intends to produce 300,000 bottles of sparkling wine at their new vineyard in Kent.

With that, AAPA members refilled their champagne glasses.

 

-Nelson Graves

 

(Gala photos by U.S. Embassy photographer Sylvain de Gelder):

 

https://goo.gl/photos/jCctmVibkewp6jWU6

 

 


Macron’s Big Challenges Are Still to Come: Pollsters

In the midst of an extraordinary French political season, pollsters Edouard Lecerf of Kantar Public, Bruno Jeanbart of OpinionWay, and Jérôme Fourquet of Ifop spoke to members of the Anglo-American Press Association for a second time this year to make sense of a shake-up that continues to reverberate around us.

The three polling experts met with some 20 AAPA members on June 6, just a few days ahead of the legislative race, in an event kindly hosted by Bloomberg.

Members were seeking to understand how President Emmanuel Macron was poised to capture an absolute majority in the National Assembly in June 11 and June 18 polls, when his official party was just one-month-old.

The pollsters attributed La République En Marche's victory to President Macron's firm start, demonstrating French strength in the face of international leadership, particularly President Macron’s white-knuckle handshake with US President Donald Trump or his dismissal of Russian media propaganda in front of President Vladimir Putin. "He has responded very, very well by showing he could don the clothes of the president of the Republic," Mr. Jeanbart said.

He has also been buoyed by the ongoing implosion of the established political class, which began with the presidential campaign and shows little signs of abating. “It will reorder the way we see and interpret the political landscape,” said Mr. Lecerf.

But they also warned that Macron's real test lies ahead, as he turns his campaign pledges into political reality. “En Marche has drawn from a very large spectrum of candidates, from both the left and right, and it remains to be seen if they can stay united when voting on things like labor reform or taxing France’s wealthiest earners,” says Mr. Fourquet. “Their biggest challenges are yet to come.”

 

-Sara Miller Llana

 

 


Political Scientist Sees Bumpy Road Ahead for Macron

Dominique Reynié, CEO of the think tank Foundation for Political Innovation (Fondapol--liberal, progressive and European) and professor at Sciences Po, spent nearly two hours on June 2 sharing his thoughts with the AAPA on topics ranging from Emmanuel Macron’s election as president to the miscasting of Gérard Collomb as interior minister.

Democracy has been plunged into a historic crisis by three major factors: globalization, demographics (aging society and immigration), and budgetary constraints, he told 14 AAPA members in Fondapol’s Parisian headquarters. In the case of France, the nation is losing its vitality, but this is more existential than structural. Moreover, the country increased the risk in its “perilous” system of universal suffrage by shortening the presidential term from seven to five years. “It is French roulette,” he added.

Macron’s election as president on May 7 was reassuring, but does not mask the worrying rise of populism in France. In this “pathological” election, the eight non-mainstream candidates won 49.6% of the vote in the first round, a precedent in France since the introduction of universal suffrage after World War 2. The National Front and blank votes plus abstentions accounted for 57% of the electoral roll, up from 39% in 2002, when the then National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen fought the presidential runoff against Jacques Chirac. Only the FN’s negative stance on the Euro prevents it from capturing more support from rightwing voters, as its anti-immigration stance is echoed by other mainstream parties.

The chances are that Macron, the first French president to be elected without a political party behind him, will win a majority in the National Assembly elections to be held in two rounds on June 11 and 18, but he may have to rely on François Bayrou’s Modem members to push legislation through now that La République En Marche! is losing support over Richard Ferrand, who should already have stepped down, Reynié said. A strong Modem would be a nightmare for Macron, as he could have a hard time persuading Bayrou to back his proposals on labour law reform and the government budget. The National Front and France Insoumise are unlikely to win many seats, which means that the opposition will come from beyond the confines of parliament.

Macron--the first hyper president--was elected because he grasped that the system was collapsing, rather like a surfer who rides a wave. His arrival in the Elysée triggered a “phase of rupture”, like “jumping over a wall” that is opening the way to many novelties, including a recentralization of the system and an authoritarian approach to government. No doubt this is inspired partly by his first-hand experience of ex-President Hollande’s inability to make decisions, Reynié said. The fact that the Elysée chose most of the ministers’ advisors illustrates the point.

Because Macron has only now created his political party, the next parliament could include up to 70% new faces, compared to a usual 20%, predicted Reynié. If 350 Macron candidates win seats in parliament, different forms of protest movements could multiply. Even though the unions represent only 8% of employees in France, their power lies in their ability to harness public opinion. Macron could lean increasingly to the right, and will have to placate the pressured security forces, but Interior Minister Gérard Collomb was “miscast” to do the job, he added.

-Barbara Casassus

 

 

 


AAPA Members Visit World’s Biggest Auction Space

The AAPA’s evening field trip on May 18 to Drouot, Paris' historic and esteemed auction house, was an eye-opener to most of the group who had never experienced a high-powered auction in full swing.

Drouot opened in 1852 and is the world’s largest public auction space, with 18 auction halls where 110  affiliated auctioneers sell off objects to the highest bidders from premium art works to more humble possessions. Today, some 500,000 items a year pass through Drouot - art, furniture, wine and curios from past centuries as well as younger bargains.

Our group was greeted with champagne and a presentation of Drouot from CEO Olivier Lange. Then we were taken upstairs and allowed to wander the exhibit rooms where vast worlds were on display.

What sets this house apart from confreres Christies and Sotheby's is it’s accessible to everyone. You don't have to be an art expert or a millionaire to bid at Drouot. Some 5,000 people come in off rue Drouot every day to browse or bid.

We were able to watch two auctions taking place, including a competitive, modern art sale where a work by French artist Yves Klein was knocked down for 465,000 euros, many times the estimate. Bidders' calls came in from around the world as a line of multilingual staff manned the phones and logged internet bids.

We also had the privilege of being taken downstairs in a freight elevator into the bowels of the newly redesigned auction house to see all the items being stored for pick up. If you can’t take what you bought right away, Drouot will hold it for you for a fee. There are some real treasures down there!

-Eleanor Beardsley