Crowdfunding to help French daily newspaper turn into a co-operative

Employees at the French regional daily newspaper Nice-Matin have launched an appeal for donations of €300,000 on the popular European crowdfunding site Ulele as part of their campaign...

Employees at the French regional daily newspaper Nice-Matin have launched an appeal for donations of €300,000 on the popular European crowdfunding site Ulele as part of their campaign to save the business and convert it into a workers’ co-operative.

Half the amount being sought on Ulele was donated in the first few days of the campaign, which began on 5 August, and is currently at 82% of its target. Nice-Matin sells around 130,000 copies each day and is an established part of the social, political and cultural life of the eastern Cote d’Azur. However, together with its sister papers in Corsica and the Var region, it is currently in the French equivalent of receivership, having reportedly been losing EUR 500,000 a month.

A number of bids to purchase the paper, including bids from other newspaper interests, are expected to be considered by the administrator at the end of September. However all except the workers’ proposal would involve major redundancy programmes.

According to François Roubaud, the Nice-Matin journalist and trade union delegate who is behind the co-operative proposal, between 350 and 450 of the existing 1180 jobs are likely to disappear if the paper passes into the hands of an external bidder. By contrast, the workers’ bid would involve only about 110 voluntary redundancies.

Under the staff’s proposal, Nice-Matin would be restructured as a worker-managed business, incorporated as a SCOP (a participative co-operative society). Recent years have seen renewed interest in France in the possibility of using the SCOP framework to save conventional businesses in difficulties, often undertaken in partnership with the trade unions.

Successful phoenix co-operatives in France include the Auvergne textile firm Fontanille, formerly a family-run business, and the print company Hélio-Corbeil. The €300,000 being sought by crowdfunding is part of a much larger recapitalisation plan prepared by the Nice-Matin workers, which includes a major investment by the employees, by the regional co-operative association URSCOP, by external invertors as well as bank borrowings. According to François Roubaud, around four hundred employees are committing to investing €3,500 each in the venture.

“Be reasonable, demand the impossible,” says the group’s Ulele website. “Nice-Matin is your paper. It has been telling your story for seventy years. But this history could very well abruptly come to an end, just like that.”

The French daily press is currently facing serious structural difficulties, with even the national radical left title Libération (founded by Jean-Paul Sartre) at risk of disappearing.

Nice-Matin’s attempt to restructure as a workers co-operative will be watched with considerable interest elsewhere in France. A similar approach has also been suggested for the struggling local media in Britain by Dave Boyle in his 2012 report for Co-operatives UK Good News.

Currently the Skye-based West Highland Free Press is the only significant newspaper operating as an employee-ownership venture, following a 2009 buy-out funded partly by individual staff members and partly by Baxendale Ownership (formerly Baxi Partnership). The magazine Ethical Consumer, originally a workers’ co-operative, converted in 2008 into multi-stakeholder coop and now has both investors and employees as members.

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