Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Future of Charlie Hebdo in Doubt

I suppose this dénouement was inevitable.

At WSJ, "Rift Among Charlie Hebdo Staff on Future of Newspaper Enriched by Tragedy":
PARIS—Less than two weeks after the terror attack that devastated their newsroom, Charlie Hebdo’s surviving staff members gathered in a borrowed conference room to discuss an unexpected dilemma.

The satirical newspaper, once on the edge of bankruptcy, was selling millions of copies, and many on its staff were suddenly demanding that it become a cooperative to give everyone a say in how to use the resulting windfall.

“It’s completely out of the question,” responded Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, one of only two surviving shareholders in Charlie Hebdo and its new top editor. Moments later, according to people present, he stormed out of the meeting.

A rift has emerged inside Charlie Hebdo over how the leftist newspaper should handle its transformation from a financially troubled niche journal to a global brand enriched by tragedy.

After burying their colleagues and getting back to work, many on staff are pressing the publication’s owners to give up their shares and place the newspaper in the hands of all its employees. But those atop the newsroom—including Mr. Sourisseau, who received his 40% stake as a symbolic gesture when the shares were essentially worthless—have resisted, saying it is too early to make any changes.

“I don’t think a cooperative is the best way to run a newspaper,” said Gérard Biard, the No. 2 editor under Mr. Sourisseau, in an interview. “Money can make people crazy.”

A spokeswoman declined to make Mr. Sourisseau available, and he didn’t respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, after a pause to regroup, Charlie Hebdo will publish its second issue since brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi assaulted its offices on Jan. 7, killing eight staff members and four others in what the terrorists said was retaliation for the newspaper’s caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The attack turned Charlie Hebdo into one of the world’s best-known symbols of free expression, with the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan resonating globally. But it also brought to light long-simmering tensions inside and outside the weekly, where the biggest commercial successes have often come when it has been at its most controversial, particularly in its treatment of Muslims and Islam.

In the weeks since the attacks and Charlie Hebdo’s decision to print another caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, the newspaper has sold nearly eight million copies, more than 200 times the normal level, which will generate about €12 million ($13.6 million) after printing and distribution expenses, the distributor said. It has also attracted 250,000 new subscribers who each spent roughly €100 for a year, and it received around €4 million in donations, a lawyer for the newspaper said.

At the same time, Charlie Hebdo has faced sometimes violent protests across the Muslim world. Online, a counter movement dubbed “Je ne suis pas Charlie” (I am not Charlie) has also gained momentum. A former Charlie Hebdo staffer, Delfeil de Ton, blamed murdered editor Stéphane Charbonnier for provoking the assault, asking in an article published last month in French magazine l’Obs: “Why did you drag the whole team along in your escalation?”

Inside the newspaper, there is debate over how—or whether—Charlie Hebdo should assume the mantle that has been thrust upon it. It has already, with the help of the French newspaper Le Monde, released a smartphone app, and it will continue to offer a digital version with English translations. A complete redesign is planned for the fall.

Some inside the newsroom say Charlie Hebdo must reject its new symbolic role. Others say they must embrace it. “We must become a global newspaper of freedom,” said Patrick Pelloux, a veteran Charlie Hebdo columnist. “It’s an enormous responsibility.”

Amid the debates, there appears to be broad internal agreement that Charlie Hebdo must not let its newfound wealth and readers change its editorial tone...