Le Monde Diplomatique (LMD) is a French monthly newspaper created in 1954 by Hubert Beuve-Méry, then editor of the Parisian newspaper of record, Le Monde. It is large format and typically runs to 32 pages, including color artistic photographs and art reproduction. It offers feature and political analysis articles, mostly of one to two pages in length. Sometimes a particular issue will contain a cluster of articles on the same issue or country, running to several pages. It also has short book review pages, mostly of nonfiction, but always including at least one or two novels, generally by global southern authors.
Today, LMD is one of the most important global anti-capitalist newspapers, with worldwide influence, especially in countries where people speak Romance languages or Arabic. The newspaper was translated into 26 languages, as of 2006, and had a total circulation of almost 2 million paper copies. Even though the newspaper has never taken sides in a French electoral campaign, the editorial line can be defined as to the left of the French Socialist party. However, LMD was never monolithic and three broad historical tendencies have been in play during its history: leftist Christians (some of them leading resistance fighters during World War II), internationalists (most of them former Communists), and leftist nationalists (some linked to the Eurosceptic political party Mouvement Républicain et Citoyen, led by former interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement). The leftist Christians had all retired by the time of writing, but the two latter tendencies were still present in the newsroom. However, notwithstanding these political dissensions, all the journalists were close to global justice movement (altermondialiste) perspectives and were unanimous in denouncing the European Constitutional Treaty proposal in 2005.
In the mid-2000s the newspaper worked with a small editorial staff of nine journalists. These editors had a remarkable level of cultural capital, with seven having doctoral degrees. The majority of the articles were written by outside contributors, mostly foreigners, and academics or independent journalists. The newspaper may be regarded as a strategic institutional location for leftist intellectuals writing on international issues.
As with other worldwide media such as the International Herald Tribune or the Financial Times, when we observe the sociological composition of its journalists and its readership, LMD has always belonged more to “class media” than “mass media” or “popular media”. A study done in 1998 showed that 75 percent of LMD’s subscribers had higher education and 40 percent of them were senior executives. Some articles resembled academic popularization rather than journalistic news, and readers needed a high degree of cultural capital to master the contents. It also had the peculiar feature of including both professional journalists and academics on its staff.
In its early beginnings, LMD did not have a radical leftist editorial line. The newspaper was only a supplement of the daily newspaper and it aimed particularly at a readership in the diplomatic arena. The newspaper had only one or two permanent journalists and most of the articles were written by Le Monde’s foreign correspondents. The two newspapers kept the same editorial line until 1973, adopting a neutralist position in the Cold War, and dominated by center-left Christian staffers. Nevertheless, LMD had the ambition to become a successful newspaper of record, with an austere image and the goal of objectivity.
In 1973, LMD changed its editor, its style, and its editorial line. The newspaper adopted a third-world position and a critical view of the western bloc during the Cold War. As academics and former communist journalists joined the editorial staff, the newspaper switched course and adopted an anti-capitalist editorial line. The content also changed enormously. Before 1973, LMD was overwhelmingly interested in international relations, diplomatic circles, and possibly the national politics of foreign countries. With its new editor, LMD began to be interested in cultural and social news. Also, in the early 1980s, Claude Julien, the editor of LMD, had been elected editor of Le Monde, but a subsequent vote reversed the election. Julien then returned as head of LMD with more legitimacy and greater autonomy, conceded by Le Monde’s new editor to smooth over the ousting.
The degree of autonomy increased and was institutionalized in the late 1990s by LMD becoming a subsidiary company, where Le Monde kept 51 percent of the newspaper, with the other 49 percent being shared by editorial staff and readers. LMD needed money and asked readers to become shareholders. The association Les Amis du Monde diplomatique (“LMD’s friends”) was created for this purpose, and many local associations started to organize conferences and debates with LMD’s journalists and external contributors. It is a top-down association with a charter that allows the editorial staff to control the election of its national executive committee. The nomination of local coordinators is done by this national executive committee and local committees are not allowed to take any public position.
Editorial autonomy had been respected since the beginning of the 1980s and the new subsidiary company was able to protect the newspaper against Le Monde’s future editorial interference. Readers and staff together held more than 33 percent of the shares, the threshold needed in French corporate law for protecting statutes that guaranteed autonomy of internal functioning and editorial line. Nevertheless, LMD is a capitalist firm that has to be profitable. In contrast to the alternative media sector’s typical economic weaknesses, LMD uses similar marketing strategies, market research, administration, and financial planning to those used in mainstream media.
Until the late 1990s, LMD had a radical editorial line but was not literally activist. However, after the major 1995 wave of strikes in France, the newspaper decided to participate directly in the creation of some activist associations. Most of these associations were created in a similar way. The first was the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC, in French), one of the leading associations in the worldwide campaign against “rightist globalization.” The idea to create this association originated in 1997 in an editorial by LMD’s editor Ignacio Ramonet. The newspaper rapidly received a significant number of letters from readers who wanted to become members of an association of this kind. The inaugural assembly was held soon after the famous editorial. A similar strategy was adopted for the creation of two other altermondialiste organizations: the World Social Forum (WSF) and Media Watch Global (www.mwglobal.org). Some LMD journalists also became leaders of antiglobalization organizations.
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