Newspapers Seeing Hard Times Across the Atlantic as Well

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Across the Atlantic, things are tough for French newspaper publishers, too, and don’t look to improve soon. “Newspaper executives are fairly pessimistic about the future,” Antoine de Tarl?, the vice president of France’s largest daily, Ouest-France, tells E&P. “Circulation is going down by 1.5% or 2% per year, and the competition with the Internet and the free sheets is very tough.”

So tough that France’s minister of culture and communication has declared newspapers to be, in effect, charity cases. At the recent annual meeting of the National Federation of the French Press (FNPF) — the Gallic equivalent of a combination of the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors — Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres declared that private individuals who donate to “opinion newspapers,” that is, mainstream papers with editorial pages, can take a tax deduction.

Donnedieu de Vabres also urged the newspapers to create an industrywide foundation to make tax-deductible gifts even simpler. “Of course each [newspaper] is free to create its own foundation, but think of this idea as a single foundation of the French press of opinion,” he said, according to the text of his speech on his Web site. “I’m ready to contribute to its realization!” he added, the exclamation mark appearing in the text.

This sort of government largesse and enthusiasm for helping the press, which is essentially unthinkable in the United States, is common in France, Ouest-France’s de Tarl? says: “In fact, the French government has always helped the French press in many ways, since the end of World War II.” At the end 2005, for instance, the government stepped in to finance buyouts for French newspapers’ notoriously overstaffed pressrooms, he notes.

Don’t look for Washington to offer that subsidy to American papers that are reducing staffs. And it’s hard to imagine a cabinet member of any administration, Republican or Democratic, closing a speech to U.S. newspaper publishers the way Minister Donnedieu de Vabres did at the NFPF meeting: “Long live writing! Long live the press! Long live the future of the press!”

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