Started by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973 as a leftwing title, Liberation has been a mainstay on newsstands, especially in left-leaning anti-Catholic circles.
The militant journalists at France’s third-biggest and struggling national newspaper are reacting with fury at a surprise plan by the owners to try to turn around the struggling daily by transforming it into a “social network”.
The three main owners of Liberation, businessman Edouard de Rothschild (of the famed banking family), real estate developer Bruno Ledoux, and the Italian wealth management group Ersel, say they hope their “innovative” plan will turn around its fortunes.
The owners also want to convert the multi-million-euro building currently rented by the newsroom in central Paris into an all-day cultural centre featuring a cafe, TV studio and business area to help start-ups.
Outraged Liberation journalists vented their opposition to the plan on the cover of the weekend edition, which had the frontpage headline: “We are a newspaper, not a restaurant, not a social network, not a cultural space, not a TV studio, not a bar, not a start-up incubator.”
The staff voted Sunday not to repeat a 24-hour strike they staged Thursday upon learning of what the owners had in mind. Instead they vowed to fight against the “illegal” project in their newspaper’s pages.
But it has long trailed the more prestigious Le Monde and Le Figaro dailies, and, with a circulation of just 100,000, it has been a loss-making enterprise for shareholders.
In 2013, Liberation lost more than a million euros ($1.3 million) as sales plummeted 15 percent — the biggest slide among French newspapers.
“Our project is the only viable solution for Liberation,” Ledoux told AFP on Saturday.
He criticised what he said was a “symptomatic” reflex to reject innovation among the paper’s journalists, and warned: “If the staff refuse, Liberation won’t have a future. What’s at stake is its death.”
The paper’s staff, though, are sceptical of Ledoux’s claims, pointing out that he is the owner of the building rented by Liberation, and therefore in a position to make millions if he turfs the daily out after making it bankrupt.
“The newspaper is our weapon,” said one of its journalists who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We might also do an investigation into our shareholder Bruno Ledoux.”