It’s been a muted outcry, but by Tuesday morning, media pundits were already beginning to call it the “end of an era”.
Their reference was to Le Monde’s effective sale on Monday to three Left-leaning businessmen—one is a banker, the other an Internet and telecom billionaire who made some of his money from running online sex chats, and the third, a fashion entrepreneur.
In many ways, Le Monde was an anachronism, a paper run (as opposed to merely being produced) by journalists who could replace both the editor and the publisher. It is also a paper that reflects the best and worst of some papers in other markets, including India—strongly independent newsrooms that are staffed by individuals reluctant to adopt the Internet; an over-emphasis on the printing and distribution side of the business; and a belief (in the case of publications as respected as Le Monde, especially) that the brand is worth far more than it really is.
The last is a belief that has been only partly misplaced from the historical perspective, as evident from the hugely exaggerated sums of money businessmen and companies have been willing to pay for some media properties. This may not hold true in the future, especially because some of these properties now look more like trophies on the wall than sound investments.
In the case of Le Monde, France’s labour laws made matters worse—it’s difficult to fire people, including journalists and press workers in the country—but the larger issues that forced its sale, which may have compromised its editorial independence (although the new owners have promised to keep that intact like new owners almost invariably do), are similar to issues that newspapers in the US and other parts of Europe have faced over the past decade.
And, they are similar to issues that at least some newspapers in India, which still remains a lucrative market for print media, are beginning to, and will increasingly face over the next decade.
Like Le Monde, and countless papers before it in the US, everyone knows they must change, but few are willing to. Worse, fewer know what they have to change into.
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