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The development of local online journalism in South-Western France: the case of La Dépêche du Midi


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Nikos Smyrnaios and Franck Bousquet,

In Ramón Salaverría (ed.), Diversity of Journalisms, Proceedings of the ECREA Journalism Studies Section and 26th International Conference of Communication (CICOM) at University of Navarra, Pamplona, 4-5 July 2011, p. 347-358

Published in: News & Politics, Business
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The development of local online journalism in South-Western France: the case of La Dépêche du Midi

  1. 1. Nikos Smyrnaios and Franck Bousquet LERASS, Université Toulouse 3 The development of local online journalism in South-Western France: the case of La Dépêche du Midi
  2. 2. Research question and method <ul><li>What are the online strategies of the Regional Daily Press in France and how they impact local journalism (online and offline) ? </li></ul><ul><li>A case study of La Dépêche du Midi journal and its digital division </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitative approach including a dozen of interviews (senior managers, journalists, stringers and technicians) </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnographic observations of their work practices in situ (Paterson & Domingo, 2008). </li></ul><ul><li>Study of various internal documents (financial statements, strategic guides and reports, market research and readership analyses) </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Daily Regional Press in France 61 local/regional dailies around the country Sales of 5 million newspapers everyday 17 million readers: most read daily newspaper in France => Ouest France Local monopolies in print, advertising, TV,radio Significant political, cultural and economic influence on territories Developping digital strategies but still far behind national media on the web Facing significant competition on the web (e.g. city-guides and journalistic pure-players)
  4. 4. La Dépêche du Midi Established in 1870, belongs to the Baylet family since 1927 Includes several print media and a participation in a TV channel. Owner: senator, head of Conseil Général and president of the Radical Party Newspaper covers area with a population of 3 million (biggest city Toulouse, 1 million), 18 local editions, daily sales of 190 000, 600 000 daily readers 2008: a deficit of 7,5M€ 2009: 80 lay offs on a total of 1040 employees Profit of 1,7M€ for a turnover of 118M€
  5. 5. La Dépêche Interactive Established in 1997, group’ s digital subsidiary initially was a web agency Paid by the group and by other clients for digital services 2007 strategic shift: La Dépêche Interactive buys the newspaper’s content and produces website Focus on increasing trafic and advertising Spectacular rise : from 167K UV in 2007 to 3M UV in 2011 Company broke even in 2009 8 employees in 2010: 4 « editorial webmasters », 2 executives, 1 SEO specialist, 1 advertiser Physically and symbolically separated from the newspaper staff, different status, different offices, no communication between journalists and webmasters purely marketing approach => website as « a trafic/money machine » Head of digital subsidiary also Director of marketing for the group
  6. 6. How does the web influence print journalists ? <ul><li>No special instructions or guidelines to print journalists about the website </li></ul><ul><li>No coordination between the newspaper and the digital newsroom </li></ul><ul><li>Nevertheless, all print journalist have acces to website traffic statistics: </li></ul><ul><li>daily competitions between local corrspondants and journalists for the article with the most views </li></ul><ul><li>having noticed that certain type of topics generate more clicks, journalists tend to write more papers about them </li></ul><ul><li>head of local print editions use website statistics as an important criterion in the choice of topics and angles </li></ul><ul><li>Internet traffic figures provide instant, quantitative, judgment on each individual content thus importing the logic of maximum audience (TV) in the newspaper newsroom </li></ul><ul><li>= > new tendency that influences journalists’ work and newspaper content </li></ul>
  7. 7. How does the digital newsroom work ? <ul><li>Four « editorial webmasters » without journalist status: no profesional card, lower salary than newspaper staff, no symbolic capital (neveretheless most of them have studied journalism and communication) </li></ul><ul><li>Executives describe the webmasters work as  « formatting and marketing existing content, not producing ». They present this as a strategic choice but there is in fact a pecuniary explanation => cost cutting </li></ul><ul><li>No original content production, no reporting => shovelware phenomena </li></ul><ul><li>Three different flows of content are published automatically on the site: </li></ul><ul><li>all the articles of the newspaper of more than 400 characteres </li></ul><ul><li>wire content from the AFP agency for general news and Actustar for TV-entertainment </li></ul><ul><li>various services (traffic, weather, jokes, TV programs, etc..) purchased or acquired by partnership </li></ul>
  8. 8. How does the digital newsroom work ? Various tasks performed daily in the digital newsroom: Content prioritization : composing the 26 news items for the newsletter, (100k subscribers) and the homepage Objective => strike a balance between generating traffic and defending the medium’ s image Systematically hightlighting high traffic potential content: sport, crime, scabrous stories But also… Equilibrating with politics, international affairs and cultural news Reflecting a territorial balance by putting forward news from different local editions Prioritization seen as an important responsability by webmasters => journalistic prerogative
  9. 9. How does the digital newsroom work ? <ul><li>Editing : changing headlines and adding key words and photographs to the articles </li></ul><ul><li>Four dimensions: localization, explicitation, illustration, search engine optimization </li></ul><ul><li>Localization: contextual information about the place that news occured </li></ul><ul><li>Explicitation: rewriting of headlines to raise click rate </li></ul><ul><li>Illustration: adding photos </li></ul><ul><li>SEO: adding keywords, republishing same article under different headline </li></ul><ul><li>40% of the website ’s traffic comes from Google </li></ul><ul><li>Potential of traffic growth comes from general and international news </li></ul>
  10. 10. How does the digital newsroom work ? <ul><li>(Non) Community management : moderating comments and …nothing else </li></ul><ul><li>Content generated content on the site is minimal </li></ul><ul><li>A handful of blogs </li></ul><ul><li>commentaries </li></ul><ul><li>Social network use also minimal </li></ul><ul><li>Automatically updated Facebook and Twitter profiles </li></ul><ul><li>Moderating comments practically the only community management performed by the website team </li></ul><ul><li>After a full day of work, comment moderation is seen as drudgery and done quickly </li></ul><ul><li>No interaction between journalists and readers, no real community </li></ul>
  11. 11. Conclusion <ul><li> is seen as a « traffic machine » by executives </li></ul><ul><li>Free access to all the print content online/model based on advertising </li></ul><ul><li>Absolute priority: not to lose money ! </li></ul><ul><li>No innovation / No recognition of journalistic prerogatives </li></ul><ul><li>Weak engagement of the webteam </li></ul><ul><li>But … </li></ul><ul><li>Evolution of everyday work inside online and offline newsrooms: </li></ul><ul><li>Individual logic of audience online and offline </li></ul><ul><li>Search engine optimization </li></ul><ul><li>De facto journalistic prerogatives </li></ul><ul><li>Result due to material constraints related to insufficient resources as well as its purely marketing-centered vision of the internet, not technologic or human potential. </li></ul>