The arrival of free newspapers

It started in Paris and is happening now in all the cities of France. At the exits from the underground stations and railway stations there are people who are distributing free newspapers.

They are newspapers containing news: they are not the weekly papers full of classified adverts which we have known for a long time. Here we find the main headlines of the day, a bit of foreign news, a bit of sport and show biz… at first sight they look like newspapers you would pay for.

Good news for consumers then? Not completely according to many specialists. The arrival of free newspapers is much debated. Philippe Chaslot, a journalist of Lyon Capitale explains:

The problem is that this free press arrives in France; it is supported by very powerful financial groups who have for the moment deep pockets [1], and who have only come finally to make money. The fear is that they risk drying the draining the advertising market. And this advertising market is necessary for the traditional press, that is paid for press, because this traditional paid for press costs a lot to make, because good information is made by journalists, by lots of journalists. So it is necessary to have some money and as people do not really read a lot, it is necessary to sell the newspapers and it is necessary to have advertising.

A regional newspaper like Le Progrès in Lyon has some 300 journalists. A weekly like Lyon Capital employs 20 journalists. But free newspapers like Lyon Métro does not employ real career journalists. They work most of the time on the press releases from press agencies like AFP, the big Agence France Presse. A job of cutting and pasting which disgusts professionals.

It is the scissors press since it cuts releases from press agencies and puts them end to end.

Information which arrives like that, which appears without being considered and put into an appropriate form, that is not interesting. So I don’t know if people pay attention to it.

That is the question that people are asking themselves. Will the public prove to have sufficient discernment to support a more edited press or even on the other hand will the free press deliver a knock out blow to the regional paid for press where several newspapers are already in a very fragile economic situation.

In the streets, the readers of Lyon Métro are not very impressed by the new products, that’s clear:

Yes, it is fine having free newspapers, but for me personally, that thing there does not please me too much because I find the articles too short.

What’s more is that it’s not journalistic, it is only reprints of press releases from AFP, and then that becomes the goal of the rest of the press, right, there you are! The form [of the newspapers] is not absolutely awful, but… well it is free, you see. It is going to fail [3], I’m sure of it.

But is it not free all the time?

Yes it is! For the moment there isn’t any advertising but wait, there will be advertising, you’ll have half of it advertising, and then…

At the news agents, there is even a faint hope that the bad quality of the new product will bring people back to the real press:

I am really a distributor… of course there is competition which hardly pleases me. Now I would say that the advantage, it’s only just, that it may perhaps bring people back into contact with the press. If it encourages people to read another press later, why not? I am not convinced of it, but at the end of the day, why not?

The first free newspapers arrived at the beginning of the year and no one is talking any longer of banning them now: it’s a done deed. But Philippe Chaslot thinks that the State must not encourage them either.

Simply, I think that the local authorities, that it is their job and it is their duty, not to facilitate their distribution. That is to say not to give them places on the pavements or in the streets. That, I believe that that is the duty of the local authorities because… quality press is necessary for democracy. They must think all the same when things are put in place and not say ‘Oh well, it is like that elsewhere, so we must take it’.

In France for example, it is the country in Europe with the most hyper markets [2]. It was seen 20 years later that all that had a cost too. In the quality of the products, in the fact that many small shops had to close their doors. These things, we did not see them at the time the hyper markets arrived, we say that it is inevitable, that it is normal, etc . But simply, we must think about these things, think about the society in which we want to live.

And the outlook for the long term?

For me personally, they tell me that these large groups like Métro and so on, are groups which are all the same very much in debt, who are losing a lot of money, that is to say that they are betting on the long term, but in fact for the moment their business is not making any money. It appears that they are starting already to pull out of some towns. So what are they going to do? I don’t know, I am not a fortune teller, well…

To be continued…

[1] rains solides – literally solid kidneys, a colloquial expression similar to deep pockets.

[2] grande surface – literally big surface, a colloquial expression for hyper markets.

[3] aller se casser la gueule – a colloquial expression for fail like the English ‘fall on its face’.

$Id: 2002_03_act.htm 35 2021-02-12 12:17:35Z alistair $

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