Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

France has her Murdoch, too

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My American readers, no thanks to me, have read about Rupert Murdoch’s offer to buy the Wall Street Journal ad nauseum. But they may not be aware that a very similar media sale is now taking place in France, and there too, journalists aren’t happy about it.
In honor of my growing readership (my No. 1 fan, aka my father, has been advertising my blogging bravado to the European intelligentsia), let’s explore the fairytale land of French business newspapers.

(A brief catch up for my European or Martian readers: Rupert Murdoch, and his media empire News Corp., offered to buy Dow Jones & Co., including its flagship The Wall Street Journal, from its shareholders and the historical owners, the Bancroft family. The WSJ is a capitalist’s Bible but also a temple of good, decent journalism. Rupert Murdoch is the guy famous for making Fox News a haven of “fairness and balance” (hear the sarcastic tone). Of course, the two mentalities clash, and at first, no one really expected the sale to go through. But Murdoch offered such insane money that no one in their right mind would just dismiss the guy without considering the sale. Follows a Dynasty-like saga of counteroffers rising and dropping, journalists – them again – freaking out that they’re considered as valuable as furniture, the Bancroft family experiencing withdrawal pains and shareholders asking everyone to just shut up and let them fill up their pension funds. Clearly the best blog fodder since Enron.)

What’s happening in France is similar to the Dow Jones saga yet somewhat more subtle because… well, we’re French. Let’s set the stage. Les Echos is France’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal. It’s the paper CEOs smudge with their morning cafe au lait. It’s the paper I was forcibly subscribed to by my business professors at the lycee Carnot. (But it stayed piled up unopened in my room because it doesn’t have all the fantastic international features of the WSJ.) Here’s where the situation differs. Les Echos has a competitor. La Tribune is smaller maybe, but it is also a national daily solely dedicated to business and financial news.

We’ve set the stage; now let’s introduce the characters. Les Echos was founded in 1908 by the Servan-Schreiber brothers, a legendary media family in France. It is now owned by Pearson LLC, a British (infamy) media group. Bernard Arnault is the head of LVMH, France’s emblematic luxury group (LV as in Louis Vuitton and MH as in Moet Hennessy champagne). Arnault offered to buy Les Echos from Pearson, and, coincidentally, LVMH also owns… La Tribune.

The sale would make Arnault the major player in French financial news. But rather than just interfere with the editorial line, which is what is feared at Dow Jones, Arnault has a more subtle plan (I told you). Word is, he intends, after buying Les Echos, to sell La Tribune to an ailing investment firm that will likely crumble soon, or at least not have much money to invest in La Tribune. Arnault would thus undermine La Tribune’s power to compete with Les Echos, and eventually turn France’s financial society into a one-paper town… of which he would then be the Murdoch. (Insert here The Simpsons’ greedy Montgomery Burns tapping his fingers in anticipation.)

Being as French as you can possibly get, journalists at Les Echos and La Tribune went on strike. Then, because Moneyland is one incestuous world, there was speculation that Pearson might sell the Financial Times in London to fuel a potential bid with GE on… Dow Jones. (GE has long gone from electricity to being the No.1 media group in the world… and a major defense contractor with the U.S.) Pearson and GE since gave up their bid on Dow Jones. Murdoch, though, isn’t giving up, and neither is Arnault.

Life is entertaining in Moneyland.

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Monday, 25 June, 2007 at 23:33

Posted in Media business

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