Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
Post-pandemic news media ecosystem worldwide is confronted with worrisome trends of readers avoidance, loss of public faith and absence of advertisement revenue that questioned the future of the industry. However, in such turbulent times, the success of the editorial and business model of the French digital news platform Mediapart attracted the attention of media analysts. Mediapart does not publish advertisements and keeps away from business and government sponsorship. Its revenue depends only on subscriptions paid by the readers and it is profitable.
Mediapart is famous for its investigative journalism. The digital news platform is available in French, English and Spanish. It is pay-walled from the day of its lunch in 2008, which signifies that nobody can open the website without a subscription. In Indian currency, the annual subscription of Mediapart is about ten thousand rupees. Students, the unemployed and pensioners can avail rebate at a subscription rate which amounts to about four thousand five hundred rupees. The paid subscriber base of Mediapart was estimated two lakh twenty thousand in 2021.
French newspapers enjoy a reputation in the international market. Generally, news platforms are owned and managed by industrial houses. Le Monde is a prestigious newspaper published from Paris since 1944. Edwy Plenel worked between 1980 and 2004 and was positioned as the editor-in-chief during 2000-2004. He led a group of six co-founders to launch an investigative news site being disillusioned with the state of contemporary French media. Mediapart started operation with 25 employees which rose to a staff strength of 131 by 2022, including 72 journalists and 59 employed incharge of marketing, technology and subscriber relations.
Ownership of news platforms determines its independence. Though Mediapart was developed as a company, the founders of the establishment transferred their shares to form a non-profit endowment in 2019 with the sole aim to prevent any potential takeover. Mediapart offers decent salaries to its employees. It believes that good journalism is a byproduct of the better livelihood of the newsworkers.
Mediapart editorial policy opposes traditional media wisdom. Generally, digital news platforms lay emphasis on (i) swift, (ii) short, (iii) covering many stories, (iv) for free circulation, (v) optimizing search engine rankings. But Mediapart (i) covers only a select number of stories, (ii) which are people-centric, (iii) written in long-form, (iv) not in a hurry to break the news, (v) publish in a pay-walled platform. It entertains a different experience to the news consumers. In India, the English daily newspaper The Telegraph published by Kolkata-based Anand Bazar Patrika Group and digital news site The Wire adopt such practices in reporting to an extent.
Qualitative journalism requires experimentation in form, and style in both editorial and business models. Most of news platform publishers avoid innovative approaches. They prefer to rely an models those are succeeded earlier and believe to be safe and consider a means to achieve success. However, in reality, such an attitude proves to be faulty in 90 percent of cases everywhere. The continuous struggle for existence imposes a wrong impact both upon publications and the quality of journalism.
Mediapart struggled in the beginning years. To launch the new platform seven founders gathered 60 percent of the project finance from their personal savings and 40 percent from investors. The initial fund was designed to last for three years. But in the absence of funds by the second year, the promoters went for a bank loan to pay salaries to the employees. By the third year of publication, only 20,000 paid subscriptions were sold. However, the breaking of investigative stories attracted readership and by 2011 the venture reached a break-even point in the business accumulating 60,000 subscribers.
Exposure of an undisclosed bank account by a budget minister of the French government by Mediapart led to a nationwide uproar and the accused minister had to resign. Similarly, the investigation into finance for elections by the Libyan head-of-the-nation to a former French president turned out to be an international sensation. The reporters and editorial team work closely with the lawyers while producing stories on investigations to avoid litigation. Around the first decade of publication, out of about 200 legal proceedings, only five judgments went against the publication.
The adoption of unconventional editorial and business models marks Mediapart apart from the rest. The editorial meetings of the day are regularly held at 10.30 am. It is open for the whole team from the editorial, marketing and technical departments. All the major issues about the news platform are discussed and everybody is free to submit his or her opinion, criticism or ideas. They discuss in the open house how to cover issues, raise the subscribers base and identify the mistakes for rectification. This exercise results in motivating the newsworkers of the news platform’s operation.
The main part of the news site. Le Journal co-exists with Le Club. While Le Journal is produced by professional journalists, Le Club carries contributions from readers. The model works as a perfect feedback system allowing the readers to publish their opinion, perspective and information on various issues. Digital media has the potential to entertain such facilities and the publication endeavors to democratize the news consumption by completing the news dissemination and feedback cycle. On the other hand, the model helps for readers’ engagement contributing towards the retention of readership and improving the readers base. Journalists of Mediapart attend a meeting with the subscribers once a month online and answer all questions raised by them on camera.
Mediapart has not aligned with any political party between 2008 and 2023. To establish transparency on reporting the journalists of the platform describe the methodology adopted for investigation at the end of each investigative story. Since 2018 they also place disclaimers about sponsorship for production of the news stories. Mediapart has set an example that claims that independent qualitative journalism platforms can survive with subscription revenue, can pay decent remuneration to the journalists and endeavour for pubic-good.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on May 5, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-300
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Global Investigative Journalism Network. Mediapart built its news model around investigative journalism.
Willsher, Kim. How pioneering Mediapart has set the French news agenda