Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are journalists opinion makers?

Cevipof, a research center on French politics connected to Sciences Po and the school of journalism organized on Monday October 25 a fascinating debate on journalism and public opinion. The 3 speakers, Jean François Fogel, Dominique Reynié and Geraldine Muhlman are academics who have done a lot of research on these topics.

What is the relationship between journalism and public opinion? In a famous book "Public Opinion", published in the 1920's, Walter Lippmann described well this complex interaction. However, his position stressing the particular responsability of journalists was criticized by Dewey who favoured a form of community including journalists among others.
In the early nineties, Jay Rosen promoted the idea of public or citizen journalism. It was the idea, out of Dewey, that the journalists should listen more to the public and let them contribute to the production of information. The aim was to get back readers who had been moving away as early as the eighties, well before Internet.

Geraldine Muhlmann stated clearly that she considered the promoters of public journalism had gone too far. It is not enough to interest the public, good journalism implies a fair assesment of facts. One must find a middle way between the positions of Lippmann and Dewey.
Dominique Reynié did not disagree: the coverage of news is a proper job and must follow the rules of checking the facts. The public is not able to provide that kind of information but it is not possible to really influence the public opinion.
However, I would have liked to hear more from the speakers on the last events in the American world of the media: what about the manipulation of the press before the invasion of Irak? How to explain the success of blatantly biased TV Channels such as Fox or CNBC? Is it due to the influence of public opinion? A lot more could be said but time was too short.

Monday, October 25, 2010

digital is the solution

The New York Times and the Figaro group have just published their financial results. Both show uneven figures for the print and promising increases in digital activities that amount to 20% of the income of the Figaro with an increase of 40% of Internet ads in 2010. The Times has reduced its losses for the third term of the year but the circulation of the print newspaper is going down by 4%. However, the website registers a steady rise of advertising.
Still it is a long way before the web provides enough resources for top newspapers like the NYT, the Figaro or le Monde. The I-pad and I-phone applications won't be the solution as the cash they provide will be shared with avid tablets makers such as Apple and others.
The figures delivered by Mediametrie for the audience on mobiles are not very exciting for the media. Figaro is 11th and le Monde is 19th. Google and Facebook dominate the market and will, doubtless get the reward in terms of advertising. Obviously, a new strategy has to be thought out if the media intend to depend less on social networks and agregators.

le Parisien again

Are we getting close to a solution for le Parisien? Here, there are two schools of thought.

Some argue that the withdrawal of Dassault whose whole staff apart from Mougeotte, the Figaro editor, was hostile to the takeover, deprives Amaury, the owner, of any possibility to negociate. There remains only one candidate, Groupe Rossel and Capital fund which is not the best way to improve the selling price. In that case, Amaury would pull out and wait for a better opportunity.

Others think that the sale will take place with Rossel anyway because the future of print is not promising, to say the least and le Parisien will be a less valuable asset in five years.

Rossel people are willing to move forward but don't intend to fulfill Amaury's unrealisitc wishes. They consider that the press group is worth at most 120 million euros. They hope to reduce drastically the operating costs of the two dailies, Parisien and Aujourd'hui en France and improve the Website in order of making the whole business very profitable. However, it will be a long and costly process and agreement on printing on Amaury presses is a stumbling block that could derail the negociation.

It is not easy, these days to sell a newspaper.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The press dossiers go on

On October 13 the annual party of the regional newspapers association (SPQR) was, as usual the great gathering of the powers that be in media and politics. Contrary to his predecessor Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy did not show up but the prime minister, François Fillon and a dozen of members of the Government did the trip to Cercle Interallié and discussed with the barons of the regional press.

There were, of course, many questions and few answers on the topic of the day, the sale of Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France. Two candidates are still running: Dassault and Groupe Rossel. Both are working hard on the dossier and don't favour the exorbitant price suggested by Amaury. The deal should be fixed within 3 weeks, at about 100 millon euros. The new buyer will obviously face huge expenses for financing the departure of journalists and various executives who fill the ranks of a heavy and costly organization. However, one of the candidates told me that he was fairly optimistic about the outcome. The newspaper could be very profitable in the future.
Things don't look so promising for Presstalis the giant delivery organization that stumbles from one crisis to another. If le Figaro is distributed by le Parisien and le Monde by regional newspapers, Presstalis will lose a not profitable but important share of its business. Tough decisions will have to be made before the end of the year.