by Aralena Malone-Leroy
- France -
In June 2007, at the precise moment when thousands of tourists will be meandering down the Champs Elysées, contemplating the statues of philosophers lining the façade of the Hôtel de Ville, or strolling hand-in-hand along the curving paths of the Buttes de Chaumont, the mayor of Paris will offer tourists and citizens alike another reason to fall in love with the City of Lights: the deployment of 260 Wi-Fi hotspots dispersed across Paris, providing free internet access to all those equipped with a laptop. For those who prefer to surf the net in the great urban outdoors, approximately 138 plein air sites will be available; the remaining 128 hotspots will be deployed in municipal buildings throughout the capital (libraries, community centers, city halls), should the weather dictate otherwise.
Barring legal intervention from disgruntled French internet access providers, mayor Pierre Delanoë’s ambitious plan to make Paris the world’s first free Wi-Fi capital marks an impressive step in closing the gap between the information-era have and have-nots. And yet, not all purveyors of information are as delighted at the prospect of increased internet availability as Mr. Delanoë would think.
Indeed, this proud announcement comes at a tenuous time for the French press. Like their American homologues, French Directors of Publication are frequently cited in their own newspapers as deploring the consistent drop in circulation, subscriptions, and general readership of newspapers, with the exception of online versions of print journals and the burgeoning free morning/evening dailies handed out at high-traffic métro entrances. Venerable journalistic institutions -- from the center-left Libération, to moderate Le Monde, to conservative Le Figaro -- are not exempt from the steady decline in readership, and are scrambling to find alternative venues to grab readers’ attention—and keep it.
Recently the Nouvelles Messageries de la Presse Parisienne (NMPP), the primary distributor of periodicals in France, embarked on a publicity campaign to boost fledgling sales at press kiosks throughout France. Reasoning that readers are increasingly deterred from press kiosks due to the difficulty of locating an offbeat or low-syndicated publication, the website, www.trouverlapresse.com, was created, providing an easy-to use search engine for French readers still loyal to the printed press. The verdict is still out on whether this and other union efforts will seduce the increasingly web-reliant populace back to paper journalism.
Wooing today’s information junkie back to the démodé ritual of purchasing, porting, and perusing the traditional printed newspaper or magazine will take more than a user-friendly press search engine, if rapidly disappearing press kiosks are any indication of the sad state of affairs for print journalism. Just as speed-dating and cyber romance à la Meetic are quickly becoming an acceptable means for finding a mate among the young, professional, urban demographic, opting for on-line versions of one’s favorite newspaper is steadily proving to be the preferred method for keeping abreast of current events.
The outlook is not as bleak as the mainstream media moguls would have us believe, however, despite constant editorial pleas to “save the newspapers!” Sixty years ago, television was the new bully on the block that threatened to exterminate the newspaper industry. With a little adaptation of content and a layout makeover, the print press managed to survive the menace of broadcast television news (while raking in upwards of 70% profit margins).
Today’s version of the same battle demands a similar evolutionary shift. By accentuating the romantic, if admittedly un-sexy side of the enduring pleasure of reading the paper, newspaper editors can still entice an audience that has a bit of time and exact change on their hands. Accurate, in-depth analysis and thematic, long-term coverage is an indulgence that only a well-edited daily newspaper can provide; an identical format is rarely possible or strategically wise for online reporters, beholden as they are by advertisers to attract high-traffic with short, up-to-the-minute reports.
After all, generations X and Y aren’t the only information consumers, and even among the illusive 24-45 year old target, who can sincerely claim to prefer clicking robotically in front of a glowing monitor, when compared to the positively luxurious experience of opening up and folding a paper daily over coffee and croissants?