Iconic French newspaper Libération in crisis as editor-in-chief steps down

Photo: AFP
3 min

It is one of France’s most iconic media brands, but the left-wing newspaper Libération has been plunged into crisis in recent weeks, culminating on Thursday in the resignation of its editor-in-chief.


In an interview with rival daily Le Monde,  Nicolas Demorand said he was stepping down following a revolt by the newspaper’s journalists, acknowledging he had become a “polarising” figure in a battle between the newspaper’s editorial staff and its shareholders.

Libération is struggling for survival after losing more than a million euros ($1.3 million) in 2013 as sales plummeted by 15 percent.

Its two main owners, businessman Edouard de Rothschild and real estate developer Bruno Ledoux, have warned they will no longer finance the paper unless a "viable project" is accepted to turn it around.

They made several proposals to try to solve the financial problems, including salary cuts and putting the paper’s online edition behind a paywall.

This resulted in a 24-hour strike by Libération’s journalists last week. When they returned to work they found that Demorand and the newspaper’s shareholders were proposing an even more radical restructuring plan that would see the creation of a "social network" using the newspaper's brand, and its offices in Paris converted into a cultural centre featuring a cafe, TV studio and business area to help start-ups.

Libération's front page from Saturday, February 8th

The proposals were rejected by the Libération’s journalists, who ran a front-page editorial on Saturday’s edition entitled “We are a newspaper”.

“This is a real coup by the shareholders, against Libération, its history, its team, its values,” they wrote.

'Deep crisis'

Demorand has found himself the focal point of much of the journalists’ ire and has already faced four no-confidence votes from the newspaper’s editorial board since taking over in March 2011.

His lack of control over the publication was further made clear when a piece he wrote for the newspaper last week was rejected.

He told Le Monde he hoped his departure would help Libération move forward.

"I am taking this decision because I believe we must unblock the situation Liberation finds itself in, with a clear confrontation between the editorial department and part of the shareholders," he said. “Libération is in a deep crisis."

Demorand defended his leadership of the newspaper, saying he had tried to find a way to diversify Libération’s offering across different media platforms, while still putting the print edition first.

“Libération is still a business dominated by 'print first'. For the last three years, my idea has been to take the paper into the digital age and profoundly transform our way of working,” he said.

Libération was co-founded by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973, initially as an extreme-left publication. Its front pages have since become legendary for their artwork and punchy headlines.

At its peak, in 2001, it enjoyed a circulation over 170,000, though this has fallen to around 105,000 as of 2013.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning