In Paris, the shareholders aim to turn a storied newsroom into a restaurant

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I've got a sewing machine but, to be honest, I don't use it. Kind of like the newspaper. I still get one of those delivered but often I barely touch it because I've read the same articles online the day before. Newspapers all over the globe know what I'm talking about and some are coming up with some creative and perhaps desperate ways to survive. Take the venerable French newspaper Liberation.

Pierre Haski: They want to kick the journalists out of their headquarters in the center of Paris, which is located in a very nice building I must say. They want to turn it into a luxury restaurant and facilities for entertainment surrounding the information world.

Werman: That's former Liberation editor Pierre Haski. He says journalists at the paper are not happy.

Haski: They feel that creating excitement around the brand without investing in the news side of it and without a real plan to save and rescue the newspaper itself - they're focusing on trendy business and not on what the newspaper is first meant to be.

Werman: The shareholders of Liberation voted on this, so do they understand the business of journalism?

Haski: The newspaper fortunes have gone down in the past few years and today the newspaper is still losing a lot of money. Its previous main shareholder, Mr. Rothschild, the famous banker family, has been joined by a new shareholder who's a real estate developer. He's the one who at the moment is designing this new plan. Obviously he comes from a world that's very far from the news world and has no real understanding of what's going on.

Werman: You're saying that, essentially, the same thing we're going through here in the US, with uncertainty in media and newspapers folding - it's happening in France too. I'm also intrigued by the idea that you just put out there, the investors and shareholders of Liberation riding on the brand as opposed to investing in content. Is that also happening a lot in France?

Haski: The problem is that there is this idea that news is not making money anymore and you have to find the money elsewhere. Diversification is really the key word. Le Figaro, the right-wing newspaper, is organizing cruises with journalists as speakers. We ourselves, on our website, have created a wine fair, and so this is definitely happening.

The strange thing in this case is it's the only focus. If you're using that money to make the newspaper better or investing in new ways of presenting the news, of new plans for mobiles or for tablets, that's one thing. But that's not the case. Their plan is mainly focusing on the brand and making money with the brand outside journalism.

Werman: Liberation is an interesting case as well. Founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, it's been the moral light of French progressives for decades. What does this do to the direction of leftist politics in France? If the journalists move to the suburbs and the headquarters becomes a restaraunt?

Haski: Well, it says a lot about the fate of journalism, it's true. But it also says a lot about French society at the moment. It's true that the case has attracted a lot of attention in France because of the special place this newspaper has in its history. As you said, it goes back to Jean-Paul Sartre, to the May '68 Revolution in France and the intellectual movement. Today, the newspaper is really a shadow of what it used to be and its shareholders are coming from a completely different world.

Werman: I'm curious as to how you feel about all of these big changes that are happening in newspapers and how fast they're taking place.

Haski: The case of Liberation is very sad because I think both sides are getting it wrong at the moment. On one side you have the journalists who have failed to adapt to the digital challenge and who are now waking up to it. On the other side you have a shareholder who is completely outside the scope of news and is trying to make money other sources. This is very sad.

Werman: "May you live in interesting times," and indeed we do. Pierre Haski, thanks very much for speaking with us about this.

Haski: Thank you.