02:25 AM

MediaWatch: Can France's Le Monde Turnaround Its Fortunes?

Frédéric Filloux writing on the "Monday Note" has a good analysis of France's premier newspaper "Le Monde" and its efforts at a turnaround.

Le Monde is now owned by a triumvirate: Xavier Niel, a telecom entrepreneur, provided the bulk of the €110m ($130m) injected in the venture; Matthieu Pigasse, head of Lazard France, and Pierre Bergé, co-founder of Yves Saint-Laurent fashion house. Now, as the paper prepares to replace its editor, the new owners' turnaround operation faces tough challenges.

He writes that the newspaper's largest challenge is trying to ditch its printing press.

Le Monde still owns a cathedral that is both obsolete and costly to operate. The facility, controlled by the omnipotent Printer's Union, is plagued by productions inefficiencies and loses its clients one after the other. The plant currently employs 300 people where 100 would be more than enough. That's about €12m a year in potential savings.

Fortunately, the government is ready to help:

In Le Monde's case, as part of the industry's restructuring plan, the French government has set aside adequate funds and is ready to pick-up most of the tab. (For the long run, the Sarkozy administration wants to reduce the subsidies that accounts for 12% of the French dailies revenues but, in the interim, will provide financial support for transitions towards more durable structures.)

A larger challenge is in its most valuable asset, its digital operations, which it does not control completely.

Mr Filloux also revealed that he had rebuffed overtures to apply for the prestigious role of editor of Le Monde. He said he wasn't interested in the job because:

The editor's job, as it is now defined, has been stripped of any influence on the company's strategy. Such a job needs a say on essential matters such as the printing plant, or the way Le Monde controls its digital unit. We need to know the new owners will involve the editor in such matters. For their defense, most journalists are totally divorced from any kind of management culture. In my case, I don't believe a media can be effectively managed solely by making decisions for the main editorial or the home page.

Le Monde's turnaround will be interesting to watch and to see if there are any lessons for US newspapers