Tuesday, May 3, 2011

French Newspapers—The Space-Time Continuum

When you buy a newspaper in France, you enter a time warp. The laws of physics no longer apply. If up-to-the-minute reporting is what you are after, you may be in for a surprise.

Say you want to buy Le Monde, France’s most prominent national paper, on a Tuesday. You go to the newsstand Tuesday morning, but the only Le Monde available is from Monday. That’s because Le Monde comes out at 3pm. So you wait until 3pm and buy the Tuesday paper, but the news in it is from yesterday. In fact, many of the articles on the front page are news analyses of events that happened earlier in the week.

But that was the easy part. When you look at the paper you bought on Tuesday afternoon, it is dated Wednesday. So in fact, you are reading a paper with news from the past that appears to come from the future.

It gets worse. Let’s say you want to get the weekend edition, which has the magazine in it. You waltz up to your local news vendor Saturday morning, full of optimism. But no, the weekend edition, i.e., the Saturday edition, came out Friday. Now you have to wait until 3pm again (it’s still Saturday, remember) to get….the Monday edition. There is no Sunday paper.

Feeling frustrated, not to mention jet lagged, I tried other papers. Libération comes out on the morning of the day it’s supposed to be, but the articles have all the newsy urgency of a late night discussion over a bottle of wine. France Soir, despite its name, comes out in the morning. I don’t have the courage to try the Journal du Dimanche, for all I know, it comes out on Wednesday.

Which leaves me with Le Parisien, which is the Parisian equivalent of the New York Daily News. It comes out when it’s supposed to, is dated logically, and actually has the latest news. It may not be of the highest journalistic value, it may not have Le Monde caliber writers, but it gets high marks for living in the present.

Actually, the most newsy newspapers are the ones you get for free on the Métro, i.e., Métro and 20 Minutes. Which also seem to be the only newspapers that are thriving in this Great Newspaper Crisis era. But to tell you the truth, I have pretty much given up on the French newspapers for up-to-the-minute events. For that, I either go to the Internet, or more frequently, the radio. That old-fashioned thing with the dials does a great job in France, where there are excellent stations like France Inter and France Info.

So let’s hear it for the radio. It doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t need to be recycled, and you don’t have to put on your glasses to use it.