‘Libération’ editor quits after journalists refuse to post social network makeover

Nicolas Demorand accused his former colleagues at the French centre-left daily of being 21st-century Luddites

If a newspaper becomes the news, it is either causing trouble or in deep trouble itself. The French centre-left daily Libération, founded by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre 41 years ago, is in deep trouble.

Its managing director and former editor, Nicolas Demorand, has resigned, six days after his own journalists refused to publish an article that he had written.

The article was a defence of startling plans by one of Libération’s owners to convert the struggling newspaper into an online social network, or “left-wing Facebook”, and transform its building in Paris into a trendy café and money-making social centre for left-leaning Parisians.

The next day’s Libération front page read: “We are a newspaper. Not a restaurant. Not a social network. Not a cultural space. Not a television studio. Not a bar. ”

Mr Demorand, 42, who has led the paper since March 2011, accused his former colleagues of being, in effect, 21st-century Luddites who were refusing to make the transition to the world of the internet.

In an interview with the rival newspaper Le Monde, he said: “My decision [to resign] is the result of a profound divergence on strategy. Libération is still a business dominated by paper – by ‘print first’. In the last three years, I have been trying to get them to make the jump to the digital world.”

Journalists at the newspaper say that Mr Demorand – formerly a star interviewer – failed as joint editor-managing director until last summer and has failed as managing director since then. They reject his accusation that they are left-wing reactionaries, who cannot cope with a changing world.

Olivier Bertrand, of the SUD trades union federation, said: “In their immense majority, the employees of Libération are happy to accept all forms of diversification which… allow us to continue to deliver quality journalism.”

The problem, he said, was that the plan put forward by one of the two chief shareholders, Bruno Ledoux, seemed to have little, if anything, to do with journalism. Mr Ledoux, who owns about 25 per cent of Libération, made it clear that he intended to push the journalists out of their building (which he owns) near the Place de la République in eastern Paris.

Mr Bertrand said journalists feared Mr Ledoux planned to exploit the Libération name and brand but had no wish to invest in news-gathering, for either online or print use.

Libération has gone through several changes. The newspaper of the hard left became by the end of the century a paper of social-democratic views. It has since tried to swing towards a more anti-establishment, more youthful viewpoint. But young people tend to read their news online.