Reinvented Le Monde to 'surprise' readers

3rd November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 3 (AFP) - Bruised by a best-selling book attacking its integrity and battered by declining circulation, France's venerable Le Monde newspaper will appear on Monday in a revamped version which its top editor described as "reliable, different and surprising."

PARIS, Nov 3 (AFP) - Bruised by a best-selling book attacking its integrity and battered by declining circulation, France's venerable Le Monde newspaper will appear on Monday in a revamped version which its top editor described as "reliable, different and surprising."

Founded at the end of World War II, the high-brow Le Monde has stood alone for decades among French newspapers as the most influential forum of analysis and opinion, feared and respected by the country's ruling elites in almost equal measure.

But the publication in 2003 of 'The hidden face of Le Monde', which accused senior editors of political bias and financial impropriety, coupled with a persistent hemorrhaging of red ink, has weakened the paper in recent years.

A changing media environment, notably the defection of readers to the Internet and free dailies, has also added to Le Monde's woes.

The new Le Monde will be "a reliable paper, lively, different, surprising, and gratifying to read," said editor Jean-Marie Colombani in announcing the change.

Since its creation at the behest of Charles de Gaulle in 1944, the newspaper has undergone a major changeover only two or three times.

As of November 7, the paper will be divided into three parts. The 'news' section includes everything time-sensitive, whether national, business, or international events.

A new 'decoding' section will be dominated by the analysis and opinion that has long been the paper's trademark.

The third section, dubbed 'rendezvous', caters to the growing lifestyle demands of today's readership and suggests that the makeover is more than cosmetic, reaching beyond form to a change in content in an effort to hold readers and attract new ones.

There will be also be more photos and more color.

The afternoon daily, with a circulation of 372,000 and an average readership of nearly two million, will still hit the newstands about midday, bearing the next day's date.

Colombani acknowledged that the 2003 book savaging Le Monde severely dented the papers image, even if he does not accept its allegations. "These attacks disturbed our readers," he said. "So now we are saying to our readers, 'We listened and we heard. We have redone our homework and are resubmitting it to you'."

Colombani also lambasted France's give-away dailies -- which have outstripped all other newspapers in circulation within a few short years -- for "delegitimizing the act of buying a news product."

"All newspapers have had to reposition themselves in this environment, to redefine themselves," he said.

Le Monde's circulation has declined several years running, and will probably dip another 3.5 percent in 2005. The paper lost EUR 12 million last year, but expects to break even in 2005 after the voluntary departure of 20 percent of its newsroom and technical staff.

A recent recapitalization raised EUR 65 million, and brought in French media conglomerate Lagardere as the company's second largest shareholder at 17 percent. The principal shareholder is an employee cooperative.

According to one survey, the paper is read by 75 percent of France's opinion leaders and 25 percent of their non-French European counterparts, second only to the Financial Times of London abroad.

Its internet site, lemonde.fr, is the most visited French-language news site in the world, with 3.8 million unique visitors in September 2005.

Several other French newspapers have adjusted their ownership structures and changes formats in the last 18 months, notably Le Figaro and Libération.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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