Writing my own journal: Starting an English language paper in France

Michael Streeter explains why, mid-recession, he's starting an English language paper in France
Click to follow

That's very brave of you!" was one of the kinder reactions when I told friends the news. They have a point, I guess. Launching a newspaper anywhere at any time in history has always been a major undertaking. The potential problems don't get any smaller when you launch one in the middle of a world recession and in a country where your target audience is supposedly vanishing in droves. Yet here I am, about to edit TheFrenchPaper, a monthly national aimed at English-speaking readers in France.

It's not quite as mad as you might think. First of all let's consider that disappearing audience. Of course it's true that some Britons have headed back across the Channel as the economic crisis has deepened. This is nearly everything to do with the exchange rate between sterling and the euro. But the Brits in France are a resilient lot and most will prefer to tough it out in their new home rather than head back to their old lives. In any case Britons have always been coming and going; many who return do so for family reasons rather than financial. And from conversations I've had, there are many, many other Britons who have been planning to move to France but have put their plans temporarily on hold. Assuming Britain's debt-ridden economy can recover one day, there's likely to be a big rush heading this way ...

Moreover, though many of our readers may be from the UK, our core readership will also include Americans, Irish (not affected by the exchange rate of course) and people of other nationalities who read English. Well-known expatriates will also continue to make France their home, following in the footsteps of American actor Johnny Depp and actress turned author Carol Drinkwater, not to mention a certain Italian model and singer, Carla Bruni, who I gather has done pretty well for herself.

But why a newspaper at all? The simplest answer is because we are certain there is a need. Most, maybe even all, publications aimed at the expatriate market in France focus on practical advice for people. This makes perfect sense. Moving to any new country is hard enough, but when there's the additional hurdle of the language barrier to overcome, the experience can be even tougher. And though a major – perhaps the major – hurdle is language, there are also cultural differences. The French really do do things differently from the Americans, Irish and Britons. So dishing out advice on the health system, pensions, setting up a business, buying a house and filling in tax returns is very important. TheFrenchPaper will do the same and more – offering advice on a range of other subjects as well.

There comes a time for many expatriates when initial difficulties start to fade. They will still need to keep in touch with changes in the law, new planning regulations and house price trends. But by now their French will be better, their confidence higher and they will probably have French friends to offer advice. They are living the life they always wanted. Their need for a basic survival guide to France has gone. How then does a newspaper retain or attract such people? This is where TheFrenchPaper will be different and fill a gap in the market. As well as providing essential "survival" information, we want to do two things.

The first is certainly a challenging one: helping readers understand what really makes France and the French tick. All of us who have moved to France – whether for work or as a lifestyle choice – have at one time or other been baffled and, yes, frustrated by the country. So trying to explain why things happen as they do will be at heart of what TheFrenchPaper does. (We recently experienced the baffling side of French life ourselves. Until a few days ago we planned to call the paper The French Post, until the all-powerful French post office, La Poste, suddenly objected to the name ... fortunately I prefer TheFrenchPaper.)

A monthly newspaper is, as any journalist knows, something of a contradiction in terms. So we won't simply be describing what is happening but giving background and context to events, using a team of top class journalists from around France. Think of it as a Sunday newspaper every month. On top of this we will sprinkle the paper with French voices. Unless your French is pretty good, it can be hard wading through the French media figuring out what domestic commentators are saying. We'll be bringing readers those views, in English, helping them understand the buzz in French society in a lively and intelligent way. This will not be an expatriate ghetto paper.

TheFrenchPaper's second key difference is all about enjoyment. Most of us who have moved to France have done so because we like the country and want to experience more of it. Amid the blizzard of paperwork, concerns about the exchange rate or getting the house renovated we can sometimes lose sight of just why we came here. I want the paper to celebrate what France has to offer, for our readers to relax with a cup of tea or coffee and have a damned good read reminding them of what drew them to France in the first place; the stunning countryside, the food, the wine and the way of life, told through the eyes of both expatriates and French citizens in a warm, engaging and lively way. We are putting an emphasis on design. France is a stylish country and we want an attractive newspaper to match.

A year ago a friend admitted that when she bought an expatriate newspaper at the local supermarket she hid it under other purchases because she felt it branded her as belonging to the "British ghetto". Sad, but it wasn't the first time I've heard such a story. I'm confident, though, that our readers won't be worried about being seen with a copy of TheFrenchPaper in public. They are proud of living in France and, I am sure, will be just as proud of their new quality newspaper.

Michael Street is former assistant editor of the Daily Express and the former news editor of The Independent on Sunday.

The June edition of the paper goes on sale in France at the end of this month. See www.theFrenchPaper.com