France is fascinating. Sarkozy won the last election comfortably against the sociliasts, but has now announced massive state-aid to prop up the newspaper industry.
Last week, he announced €600m for newspapers, including measures that will see a free one-year subscription to the newspaper of choice to every 18 year-old in the country. But will this sve the industry? Because, let’s face it, this looks to be about jobs and the economy – and not about investing in quality journalism. If the most popular newspaper in France is sports paper L’Equipe, what’s to suggest the kids in question don’t sign up on mass to read that particular publication?
There are some worried that this amounts to political interference – ‘he who giveth may taketh away’, says Jeff Jarvis. But this ignores the problem, in the same way that massive bail-outs of the car industry in the US (and, let’s face it, the banking industry in the US, here in the UK, and elsewhere) ignore the real problem – newspaper circulations are not falling because ‘the youth’ aren’t interested in news, it’s because their news is consumed online. Just as teenagers don’t necessarrily want the same gas-guzzling ‘Chlesea tractors’ they did when oil-consumption and global warming weren’t such a front-page issue, neither do they want to wait for their news to be printed on dead trees. Unions might have the best interests of their workers at heart, but the long term interests of France aren’t best-served by propping up an industry that’s never been particulalry popular anyway, compared to the circulation of papers in the UK, for example.
Included in the announcement are tax-breaks for those starting up online news websites and organisations. This, it seems, gets closer to the real issue. But why waste paper on providing free papers to teenagers? They can get their news online if they want it. Sarko and other leaders would be better off investing in quality infrastructure with the kind of broadband that will serve their national media’s interests – as well as their economies’ in general – for many more years to come.
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