The future of French journalism

The French news organization La Montagne is just one of the many news organizations that are fighting to close the gap between traditional journalism and the digital world.

La Montagne is located in Clermont-Ferrand in central France. It has served Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding community since 1919. The first publication consisted of four pages without pictures. The newspaper had as of 2014, a circulation of 172,814 copies, which is a steady declining circulation from the year 1990 when it had a circulation of 246,900 copies.

La Montagne has gained a large online presence over the years, serving its community both on its website and on social media. Its Facebook page has almost 100,000 followers. The stories include hard news, politics, community events, arts and sports. Every Friday, the newspaper offers the community three different topics, giving the people an opportunity to vote for a story they want to see in the newspaper. The story with the most votes is reported on and published the following week.

The ongoing struggle for journalists today is to maintain a journalistic style while producing news in a quicker way than ever before. Nabil Wakim, the digital editor-in-chief and online managing editor of Le Monde, said in a live stream interview with the New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, that a news organization’s online presence and print version can have two different identities, but must still be able to maintain the same goals.

“We have to transform the way we do it, but what is important to us is that we keep the same values in terms of journalism and in terms of if it is worth publishing. Does this piece understand the world we live in? Whether it’s politics, international affairs or arts and culture,” Wakim said.

I attempted to reach multiple journalists at La Montagne to ask them, among other questions, how they are dealing with traditional journalism in the digital age, but I had no luck. However, La Montagne seems to already be proficient on social media. In addition to a large following on Facebook, the organization has also been active on Twitter since 2009, tweeting multiple times an hour to an audience of 80,000 followers. Their tweets include live traffic and weather updates, conversations with followers, and links to stories on their webpage. The organization also has a Instagram page with 6,400 followers and one or more photos posted every day. By having such a big presence on social media, La Montagne is pressured to always be online and to keep providing their audience with correct news.

Associate professor of French Studies at UMD, Dana Lindaman, has spent two years in France. He said that being objective is very important in French journalism.

“Journalism in France has a long history. The U.S. freedom of speech even comes from France. French people are much more into objective facts. There is truth and we can go ask for it, we can find it by asking people, doing investigations and we end up with a set up facts that will let the people know what’s going on,” Lindaman said in a phone interview.

According to CIA’s World Factbook, 84.7 percent of France’s population uses the internet, and therefore has access to online publications and news. France has a mix of publicly and privately owned TV stations and news channels. The Factbook also states that France is one of the most modern and influential countries in the world and plays an important role in a number of international organizations, such as NATO and the EU.

Ranking 39 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index in 2017, France is generally a safe country to be a journalist in. According to the WPF Index, journalists and their work are usually protected by law; however, there are political and financial pressures against them.

Following in the explanation of the WPF Index, the French media landscape is for the most part made up of business groups owned by people who are less committed to journalism. The index says that this leads to conflicts that threaten editorial independence and the economic survival of the media outlets concerned.

“Journalists at iTélé, a TV news channel owned by the Canal Plus group, staged an unprecedented strike in November 2016 in protest against the management’s editorial decisions. It resulted in the departure of around 100 of its journalists in the space of a few weeks,” the WPF Index states on its site.

In addition, multiple news organizations have been subjects to restructuring in the past year, citing increasing use of the web. The WPF Index also says that multiple new news outlets have emerged, including the online Explicite and France Info, an over-the-air TV news channel.

Although France went from 45th place on the WPF index in 2016 to 39th in 2017, there has been an increase in violence by police against reporters covering demonstrations against certain issues. These issues include the labor law and the dismantling of the “jungle” at the Calais. The WPF Index says that the current presidential election has also created a growing hostility toward journalists from political parties and the public.

Lindaman said that the election has something to do with this. “Right now in France, because of the political movement, something happens, then the politicians responds. This kind of dictates what the press is going to do. Everyone wants to know what Le Pen is going to say. She sucks the energy out of the room when dealing with this kind of stuff. She’s like Trump — they want to know what she has to say,” Lindaman said.

According to Geert Hofstede’s online country comparison, France has an individualism score of 71, which is a little less than the US, and a power distance of 68, which is more than the U.S. has. The site describes the relationship between a high individualism score and power distance as unique, including reasons such as respect for the elders, more emotional glue in the family than other individualistic countries, and the need to make a strong distinction between work and private life. France also scores high on uncertainty avoidance, explaining that French people don’t like surprises and need laws, rules and regulations to structure life. France scores a 48 on indulgence, implying that the French people enjoys life less often than what is commonly assumed.

“The French have a much more focus on the quality of life than people in the US does. They have long conversations, take more time, they don’t rush. They take time for things, but because of that they don’t always get the same kind of opportunities that people in the US may get,” Lindaman said.

With all this in mind, including the upcoming results of the presidential election, it is difficult to say exactly what will happen in the French news media in the future. However, La Montagne and other French news organizations are continuously working to maintain a strong presence in the French community, advancing within technology and including the public in some of the decisions of their stories, inviting the community to partake in the digital age’s journalism.


La Montagne’s Website: http://www.lamontagne.fr

La Montagne’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/journal.LaMontagne/

La Montagne’ s Twitter: https://twitter.com/lamontagne_fr

La Montagne’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lamontagne.fr/

CSI’s World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fr.html

Reporters Without Borders’ WPF Index: https://rsf.org/en/france

Geert Hofstede Country Comparison: https://geert-hofstede.com/france.html

Livestream interview with Nabil Wakim: https://livestream.com/frenchembassy/future-of-journalism/videos/104096767

Interview with Dana Lindaman was done on May 1st at 9:30am over the phone.