France’s evening newspaper Le Monde has unveiled an initiative designed to broaden both its perspective and its reach. Le Monde Académie, launched Wednesday, is a two-part competition and training programme that will offer 68 aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be mentored by the newspaper's staff and published within its pages. It will culminate a year from now, with three ambitious young talents receiving a rare prize: jobs within one of France’s best-respected media companies.
“Me, a journalist?” reads an advertisement featuring a girl with asymmetrically cut hair, introduced in the caption as Léa, a 24-year-old educator from Montréal. The ad campaign, released in Thursday's newspaper with a front-page editorial from the publication's director Erik Izraelewicz, emphasizes that budding journalists aged between 18 and 25 from across the French-speaking world are invited to apply, regardless of their level of academic attainment. With the Monde académie, the 68-year-old daily is seeking new voices from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, which will attract new eyes to a publication that has traditionally been written by and for an educated elite.
Serge Michel, deputy editorial director at Le Monde, is spearheading the initiative along with journalist Florence Aubenas. He confirmed that the contest is intended to rejuvenate the publication, and increase its relevance to different demographics. “We strongly believe, along with the CEO and the rest of the leadership at Le Monde, that if we want to survive long-term, if we want to keep young people reading the paper, the website, and the mobile apps, we need to integrate people who do not resemble us,” he said. “We are quite aware that the French media is a reflection of a system that promotes people from homogenous origins,” he continued.
Of particular focus are youth from the banlieue, or the suburbs surrounding Paris (Aubenas has written a book about the banlieue, to be published in the fall, and Michel founded and edited a blog in the region during the riots of 2005), but the contest is also aimed at young people in rural France, and at Francophones in North Africa, Québec, and around the world.
Aubenas explains in a video on Lemonde.fr that their initiative targets 18-25 year-olds because they have observed that it is within this age bracket that young people have the hardest time launching themselves professionally, and being taken seriously in the job market. As they are often expected to produce a diploma, relevant work experience and/or training, “those who should have doors open to them in fact find them closed,” she says in the video.
"This is a very creative and long-overdue move," said Aralynn McMane, executive director of young readership development at WAN-IFRA, "as France, and especially Paris, has had a static model for attracting youth to journalism for decades. We have seen such efforts have a huge effect in other countries, such as at Zero Hora in Brazil, which has recruited a variety of youth for 20 years with fantastic results and at Die Presse of Austria, which just won a World Young Reader Prize for its Reporter Trainee Competition. I believe that even youth who don't get the jobs certainly renew an interest in newspaper-produced news."
As of Wednesday, eligible applicants are invited to submit a video CV and two original pieces of work on subjects that they do not feel Le Monde has adequately covered. These stories may take any shape, from the written word to a comic strip or web documentary, and must be submitted by July 15. Over the summer, Le Monde's journalists will select 68 young candidates (a number chosen for the newspaper’s age in 2012) to participate in the second round of the contest. From September 2012 to June 2013, these contestants, under the mentorship of volunteer "godparents" or mentors within the editorial staff, will produce multimedia content for Le Monde from wherever they are located, and for which they will be paid.
Every day, one contestant’s story, photo, video or drawing will be published in the newspaper and on the website. The mentors will evaluate the candidates’ work on a weekly basis, and the number of "likes" their work receives on Facebook will help to determine their success, according to Michel. Three times a year, Le Monde will finance their travels to Paris, where they will attend weekend workshops and conferences. In June 2013, the godparents will select three winners, each of whom will be awarded a one-year renewable work contract. If all goes according to plan, this will mark the beginning of next year's contest, in which 69 young people will be offered the chance to participate in the Académie.
Three hours after the contest was announced on Wednesday, 600 people had taken the first step of creating profiles on the website, said Michel. He predicted that they would have hundreds or even thousands of applicants to choose from by mid-July. Asked to elaborate upon the idea of a video CV, Michel stressed that production value was not considered, and explained that it was intended to oppose the idea of the “anonymous CV” that some French employers have instituted to tackle workplace discrimination. “People have to be proud of their origins, of their appearance. We want people who really have strong desires to be journalists. The video CV is a good way to test the energy that they are ready to commit to this job,” he said.
Michel underlined the importance of refreshing the talent pool at Le Monde by reaching out to a new kind of potential journalist. “The French journalism schools are producing excellent people, and Le Monde is staffed more than half by people coming out of these schools. But they all have common backgrounds, values, and cultural characteristics. We do believe that we need some people who are really different, otherwise we are going to miss things,” he said. “Journalism is about describing reality, and we believe that having different people with us will help us to better describe the world around us.”
Sources: Le Monde
Photo Credit: Le Monde