Though the temperature is soaring in Paris the sun has set for France-Soir, the embattled title that had been serving the French public since 1944. The Tribunal de commerce de Paris, the city’s commercial court, announced on Tuesday, 23 July that the paper’s assets were to be liquidated, after several buyout attempts failed to fully materialise. France-Soir’s archives, domain name, brand, and production rights will subsequently be auctioned off and all 49 members of staff, 42 of whom are journalists, now find themselves unemployed.
It is a sad end for a title with such a prestigious history. Born as a resistance paper during the Occupation, France-Soir became one of France’s leading news providers during the 1950s and 60 under the leadership of Pierre Lazareff. More recently however, the paper encountered a series of challenges; its circulation of 150,000 copies in 1998 plummeted by 50 percent over the course of five years, the paper changed hands three times in the last 15 years and finally abandoned print altogether at the end of 2011 in the hope that shifting focus onto the website francesoir.fr would go some way to reducing costs. The move resulted in the loss of 180 jobs, and according to journalist Franck Cartelet only a handful of those have managed to find another post. After enduring for more than 68 years in print, France-Soir’s new online version lasted for seven months before the paper’s sole owner threw in the towel at the beginning of June.
Alexander Pougatchev, son of Russian billionaire Sergeï Pougatchev, acquired France-Soir in 2009 and reportedly invested 70 million euros in an attempt to restore the paper to its former glory. Although France’s national press mourned the loss of France-Soir’s print presence, the website’s coverage of the presidential elections brought it a modest following and Editor-in-Chief Dominique de Montvalon believes that site still had the potential to take off. Speaking after the court ruling, Montvalon acknowledged that the decision was almost “inevitable,” and claimed that the title was ultimately overwhelmed by the debts incurred from Pougatchev’s print investments.
There had been some hope that a new buyer would be found before the court came to its decision. An offer of 56,000 euros was made by Lafont Presse on 19 July, but was unanimously rejected by the paper’s management and staff. Lafont had planned on investing 1-2 million euros in the paper, while retaining only 6 members of staff and hiring a further 15 journalists to contribute to a weekly print edition of France-Soir. Rumours also began to circulate that the publication’s previous owner Jean-Pierre Brunois had expressed an interest in buying back the title, though this was never formally confirmed by Brunois or the paper.
While there are questions being asked about the 27-year-old owner’s role in the paper’s demise (staff are furious with both Pougatchev’s management, which they insist “killed” the title, and with the French government’s silence over the affair) ultimately France-Soir is a prime example of a crisis-hit title that ran out of time to turn its fortunes around. The future could see France-Soir reappear in a new form under new ownership, but for now France finds itself deprived of one of the publications that shaped the country’s modern media landscape.