In a truly inpsirational interview, I had the enormous pleasure of talking to Sabine Torres today - founder and director of Dijonscope: Europe's only subscription-only regional online news site, based in Dijon, France.
The strategy as of four months ago is clear - remove any advertising from the site and put the content behind a subscription making readers foot the bill.Users now have to pay five euros a month, 50 for a year or 90 for two years.
Why is she utterly convinced this is the only, and imperative way, of securing the future of regional journalism? Because it unequivically takes away any bias, any hint of other motif, and keeps all journalists free to focus on top-quality journalism which is the core USP of the site.
The site has taken on the French legal system and won. Sabine had to face the Tribunal de Grand Instance against a print regional newspaper who accused them of unfair reporting and business.
The site has also taken on the French registration system. In France, all reporters who want to be seen as professionals have to be registered with the CPPAP. They also have to face large set up costs and different tax incentvies. This means that most regionals stay firmly in the 'unoffical blog' category, unlike Dijonscope, the first of its kind. Sabine takes great pride in her team of 10 journalists.
Dijonscope: carving out new territory in the regional press
DijOnscOpe, was launched in 2009 with advertising as the business model. It is a LLC, but took the strategic decision in December 2011 to remove all advertising including classified.
Dijonscope is a regional online news site with a strong identity for independent journalism. It is the first online daily regional to be officially recognised as a press organisation under French authorities. The mission statement representing the work of the journalists on the site is impassioned: Inform, investigate, and criticize.
The team of Dijon-based journalists focus on quality rather than quantity, with editorial decisions being more about cutting-edge investigative or informative reporting than following the day to day highlights from institutes - formerly the fodder of regional printed press. Their value for readers is in creating ' a rigorous and independent range of information, drawn and filtered by journalists and correspondents whose intellectual integrity is uncompromising'.
The site stands for clarity, and offering more understanding and even more media freedom. The editorial is not meant to be consensual but honest and fair, respecting the dignity of our audience, your dignity.
What drives you?
The main ethos is ' we will not be a public service media but media serving the public'. It is this feisty drive for editorial independence and respect for journalists as a profession that has prompted Dijonscope to become Europe’s only online regional website behind a subscription, ditching advertising from December 2011.
Beating the beurocracy
Having all the editorial team be officially registered and trained journalists is a key aspect of the business. There are six full time and the equivalent of ten all together, freelance paid or paid part time. In France, having all professional staff and no ‘citizen’ journalists is very important to Dijonscope’s identity and business model.
A structural coup
In France, most regional and local sites are blogs which means they are not registered as official press organisations. To have the right to be called a registered press agent you have to be registered with the CPPAP – the publications and press agency commission. To be recognised as a regional news provider, you have to be registered appropriately, yet most people want to make the most of the democratisation of the press and start news sites. In France these remain firmly in the ‘blog’ camp and cannot officially employ people. In the regional landscape, start-ups have been restricted to either younger people starting sites but running them more unofficially, or older generations with enough money to be registered but who bring all the old elements of ‘doing news’ to the table. That is why Dijonscope is so pioneering. registered card. Sabine was just 28 when it launched. <
Taking on the courts and old skool journalism
In May 2010 she own a court case against the traditional ‘print’ regional who accused the site of unfair competition. Dijonscope won. We want the same rights and transparency as our print legacy. The press is very opaque in France yet we want to make the relationship transparent again.
Why is journalistic transparency so key?
If you go to a restaurant you pay for the food, not the chairs and the lighting. And I want to put that back. If you want great food you pay for it. If you want great journalism you pay for it. We put information of super richness, politics economy and details - we don’t do the rubbish. Therein lies the value of what we are selling. It is our information. It is our journalists. It is our skill. I believe in them and what they are doing. I also believe in the readership. There is so much value and worth in regional Regional has too long been thought of as something trashy, devalued, sensationalised and that everything online has to be free. I fundamentally do not believe that to be true. Regional journalism is the backbone of liberty or political justice – and there is a wealth of good reporting to be done if it is done properly. This is a mission. It’s also about echoing what we believe in that mission in our business model, which is why we have changed our strategy to remove any advertising. I cannot stand advertorial. I have always said there would never be any on this site. You should not be able to buy the opinion of a reporter.<
What is the one key thing to being sustainable?
>It has to be to gain the confidence of the public. Readership isn’t falling because people don’t want to read it or because they are more stupid now than they were. It’s because they don’t have any faith in journalists or media products. It’s all got to stop. We have to work to re-establish discretion rigour and quality. We have to prove we merit the profession of journalist. We have to show humility and that we are capable of being neutral, and that neutrality as a fundamental trading ethic of what it means to be a journalist and produce journalistic content.