At a time when La Croix is reaffirming its place in the landscape of the French press, by attracting contributions from donors, by associating a support committee with its efforts, by planning to equip itself with new digital publication tools, I questioned about the part of readers in such an effort. How do the latter, recipients of the information disseminated by their newspaper, contribute to its quality, to the definition of its ethics, and to its survival in an environment saturated with information?
The case is not simple. The function of a newspaper like La Croix is to represent a Christian editorial line. The number of its readers, number in which will be counted those who read it without having bought it, is a crucial element since this circulation allows the newspaper to finance its publication. La Croix relies, I learned, “on subscriptions, and little – compared to other media – on advertising”. Our newspaper is therefore largely based on the attachment of its readers and not on its appeal to advertisers. It is both honorable and perilous. Indeed, how to interest, to survive, a greater number of readers without taking the risk of failing in its mission? Paradoxically, it is difficult to interest the greatest possible number of readers while continuing to serve the general interest. Raymond Aron recalled in the 1970s that freedom of expression did not suppose that opinions were all represented in a newspaper, but that the existence of different newspapers, each keeping its own line, guaranteed it.
Increasingly detailed digital data collection and analysis tools make it possible to know which articles they read, which ones they share, how long they take to read them, in which part of the world they are… From now on, a newspaper can , if it seeks to interest more readers, offer “tailor-made” articles to different reader profiles. It can continually appeal to a very large number of readers, since everyone will pick from the mass of articles those that are intended for them, without ever being confronted with a line that could confuse or annoy them. This is effectively what happens when an online journal asks you what topics interest you and sends you alerts when articles “may be of interest to you” are available.
It seems to me, however, that while it is obvious that a newspaper must survive economically and be read more widely, its vocation is to arouse the interest of the public in subjects which its editors deem important. It is here, I believe, in order to resolve this inevitable tension, that what I called above “the part of the readers” comes into play. It seems to me that readers, if they feel tied to the destiny of their newspaper, cannot expect it to correspond to them in all respects. To tell the truth, it would no longer be a diary but a mirror. The editor of the New York Review of Books, when I asked him one day about its success, said to me this: “A good newspaper should only please two-thirds of its readers.” If you like all the articles, change the newspaper. »
The Guardian is often cited as a model of excellence. Founded in 1821, it is praised for its independence, the factual nature of its investigative articles, and its dispassionate treatment of the most varied subjects. We often forget to describe the special bond that this progressive and liberal newspaper has with its subscribers around the world. These are, according to the studies that have been carried out, the readers most committed to their newspaper. By subscribing to it, they are not buying it, they are supporting its existence. There is no secret, a newspaper depends materially on the attachment of its readers to the independence of its convictions.