The French press

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The press in France

French media:  daily and weekly newspapers in France

Compared to the press in the UK, French newspapers play a considerably smaller role in the life of the nation. The French newspaper industry is characterised by a lack of mass-market national dailies, a lack of the kind of heavyweight Sunday newspapers that one finds in English-speaking countries, and above all the absence of the kind of frivolous and muck-raking daily and Sunday tabloid press that is so omnipresent in the UK.
     Apart from the absence of "Sunday papers" and of a popular muck-raking national tabloid press, newspapers in France are as varied as anywhere.
       Almost all French newspapers have lost readers and circulation since 2000, and are continuing to do so. The fall has accelerated since 2011, as disposable income in France has contiued to decline.  For some, such as Le Monde, Libération or France Soir, the fall in sales – due to the rise of free newspapers, the economic downturn, and the Internet –  has threatened or is threating their survival. Indeed, France Soir was closed down in 2012.

Circulation figures below are quoted from the  OJD - the French bureau of circulation.. Figures refer to the average number of copies purchased per issue in France

French dailies ( "Les quotidiens")

a) The quality dailies:
     France has three major national quality dailies, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération; between them, they target the same kind of educated reader market as serious quality papers  – the so-called "broadsheets" – such as the Times, the Independent and the Guardian in the UK, or the New York Times, the Boston Globe or the San Francisco Chronicle in the USA. There is however one major difference; French quality dailies are on the whole more intellectual and more left of centre than their counterparts in the main English-speaking countries.
  •     Le Figaro, the best-selling of the three, is the only one that is clearly a conservative newspaper. It is also the oldest of France's daily papers, and was founded in 1826. It tends to appeal to well-off educated readers, people with good jobs, particularly in the private sector. It is at the same time the closest French equivalent of the Daily Telegraph and of the Times; yet its average circulation in 2014 (copies sold per day in France) was only 314,300 - only about half of the figure for Britain's Daily Telegraph. (Total daily diffusion, including free copies and copies sold abroad, was 649,000 in 2010). 
  •     Le Monde, founded in 1944, is the paper of the establishment, though a paper that is closer in its political positioning to the Guardian in the UK, than it is to the Times. It is the preferred daily of French intellectuals, civil servants, academics, particularly those in the higher echelons. It is the newspaper that gives the most detailed coverage of world events and of politics, and a paper which is a major forum for political and intellectual debate and discussion. Being the newspaper of the establishment, it is also the newspaper that best reflects French opinion on international issues, and the French daily that is most read outside France. It is an evening paper. In 2014 Le Monde's daily sales in France were just 273,000. The paper was the subject of a bitter refinancing clash in 2010, and was eventually  taken over by a trio of top businessmen with left-leaning sympathies.  In autumn 2011, it announced a return to profitability.
  •     Libération was founded in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre and other left-wing intellectuals, as a newspaper for the '68 generation. Initially it was a newspaper of the far-left, though not one that toed the line of any political party. Over the years, as its readership grew older, "Libé" matured into a more centre-left newspaper, similar in many ways to Britain's "Guardian". It's centrist position became more pronounced after it was saved from collapse by Edouard de Rothschild. However, Rothschild's involvement led to severe tensions among editors and journalists, and the newspaper sold only an average of 113,000 copies a day in 2010. It improved its situation slightly in 2011, climbing back up to 119,000 copies a day, but by 2014 had fallen back to less than 94,000.
  •     This is much better than a fourth well-known daily, l'Humanité –  founded by the early socialist leader Jean Jaurès.in 1904. From 1920 to 1999, L'Humanité was the unofficial, then official, newspaper of the French Communist Party; since 1999, it has been editorially independent, but is still largely written, produced and promoted by Communist Party members or sympathisers. Its daily circulation in 2014 was down to 38,000.

b) Other main national dailies.
  • L'Equipe: A newspaper devoted almost exclusively to sport, L'Equipe is one of the best selling of France's national dailies, with a circulation of about  302,000 – not far off that of le Figaro.
  • Le Parisien / Aujourd'hui en France : These mid-market tabloids, one for Paris, the other for the rest of France, are more or less the same newspaper with different regional editions: they appeal to the same kind of readership as Britain's Daily Mail, or America's USA Today, and pay plenty of attention to "people" and the glitterati, as well as anecdotal news. Between them in 2009, they had a circulation of 477,000, which would make them the best-selling national title in France if they were a single title. 
  • Les Echos: France's equivalent of the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal, a major national financial and economics daily, with an average circulation of about 120,000. Similar to Les Echos, but with a smaller readership, was La Tribune, which ceased publication in 2011.
  • France Soir:  This paper ceased publication in 2012. Once the most popular paper in France, France Soir, a mid-market evening paper, sold over a million copies a day in the 1950's, its heyday. But the paper's circulation figures dropped regularly and the print edition if the paper was finally closed in December 2011. The paper continued to appear as a 100% online newspaper for the following seven months, but finally went out of business in summer 2012. 
  • La Croix: though by tradition a Catholic daily, La Croix has in recent years become much more of a mainstream newspaper. With a paid circulation of over 90,000 in 2008 and 94,000 in 2010, it wass one of the rare French daily papers to have increased its readership since the start of the century, and circulation in 2014 was still higher than in 2000.
  • Metro: the leading French free daily, similar to editions of the same title in other countries. Over 300,000 copies distributed in the ten major French cities.

c) Regional dailies
More people in France read regional dailies than national ones, and some of the regional dailies have very big readerships indeed.  Most regional dailies are mid-market tabloids.
  • Ouest France, published in Rennes, is the biggest-selling daily in France, with an average circulation of 758,000 (copies bought) in 2009, down on the previous year.. It is sold, with area variations, in the regions of Brittany, Normandy, and Pays de la Loire
  • Sud Ouest: regional daily published in Bordeaux, and distributed throughout Aquitaine, and in parts of Poitou-Charentes and Midi-Pyrénées. With a circulation of over 300,000, it is one of the largest French regional dailies.
  • Les Dépêches du Midi: published in Toulouse and sold mostly in the Midi-Pyrénées region, this big-selling regional daily (185,000 copies) reflects the centre-left "radical" political tradition which is strongly anchored in this region.
  • L'Est Républicain; regional daily published in Nancy, covering the regions of Lorraine and Franche-Comté; circulation over 200,000
  • Midi Libre, published in Montpellier, is sold throughout Languedoc Roussillon and the Aveyron.
  • Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace; the regional daily for Alsace

The Sunday press in France

The "Sunday papers" are not an institution in France, as they are in the UK. There are only two notable specifically  "Sunday" newspapers, and one of them comes out on Friday.  They are
  • France Dimanche (published each Friday),  which is largely a people magazine published by the Hachette  group; and
  • le JDD, Journal du Dimanche, which could honestly advertise itself using the slogan once misused by one of the UK Sunday papers, as  "Le JDD is the Sunday Papers"  in France. The JDD is a serious Sunday newspaper, and is also published by Hachette.  It is much read in the business community.

Weekly newsmagazines

While there are hundreds of specialist weeklies in France, there are four main newsmagazines that play the role equivalent to that of the Sunday broadsheets in the UK. They are.
  • L'Obs - Formerly the Nouvel Observateur, founded in 1964, l'Obs is a centre-left newsmagazine generally supportive of the French left-wing intellectual tradition. Circulation around 500,000.
  • L'Express  -  Founded in 1953, on the model of America's Time magazine, l'Express is a centre right weekly with plenty of economic coverage. Circulation around 420,000.
  • Le Point - Centre-right newsmagazine known for its investigative journalism, and independent thinking.  Critical of the political establishment in general, left and right.  Circulation around 400,000.
  • Marianne - Centre left "republican" newsmagazine, with a social-liberal bent, founded in 1997. Circulation around 200,000.

For further information:

La presse française + full guide to the French press - in French 

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