Crowdfunding may help French daily paper become a coop

I’m interested in a story which is just breaking in France, where journalists and other staff at the regional daily newspaper Nice-Matin are successfully tapping into crowdfunding to raise money for a potential cooperative take-over of their title.

The French press is in as much of a mess as the British.  Nice-Matin (the main daily for the Med coast in the Nice area) is currently in receivership, reportedly losing EUR 500,000 a month.  Various commercial media interests are expressing interest in buying the title, but only on the basis of major compulsory redundancy programmes which could shave perhaps a third off the current workforce tally of 1180.

Is there a better – a cooperative – answer?  François Roubaud, one of the journalists (and one of the union reps at the company) hopes that there is.  He has been the leading light behind the idea to work for an employee-based takeover of the newspaper (which also includes sister titles in Corsica and the Var region), which would be registered under French worker cooperative legislation as a SCOP (Société coopérative et participative).  There’s been a lot of this going on recently in France:  I researched recently for a client the stories behind the successful worker takeovers of the Auvergne textile firm Fontanille, formerly a family-run business,  and the print company Hélio-Corbeil, and I’ve also blogged here about the conversion of the Channel ferry service formerly run by Seafrance into a SCOP.  All these cooperative buy-outs were strongly aided by the trade unions.

The Nice-Matin workers are appealing on the crowdfunding website Ulele for EUR 300,000, and last time I looked had successfully got to the half-way stage.  The crowdfunding is part of a much larger recapitalisation plan, which includes a major investment by the employees (around four hundred employees are committing to investing EUR 3500 each) and by the regional cooperative association URSCOP, as well as by external investors and the banks.

I have written a news story for Co-operative News about the Nice-Matin developments and will draw it to your attention when it is published. In the meantime, the piece I wrote for the Guardian last year on proposals for cooperatively-run local newspapers in Britain is still available online.

If you have the odd few euros available, Nice-Matin’s Ulele website is at http://www.ulule.com/sauvons-nicematin/

Compromise on the cards at the Co-op Group

“Take my proposals in their entirety or you’re doomed.”  I am exaggerating Paul Myners’ ultimatum to the Co-operative Group’s Board on corporate governance reform earlier this year, but only slightly.

We now know that Myners’ proposal for a Co-op Group board full of the usual sort of independent non-executive directors is likely to be sweetened by a small number of places left open for representatives of ‘ordinary’ members (… as I predicted here at the time of the Co-op Group’s AGM).  Whether a handful of ‘democrats’ can adequately prevent the Group for heading off in the same direction as all those building society boards notionally accountable to their members is debateable, but my prediction this time is that the compromise will be accepted.

What’s disappointing is that the presence of ‘ordinary’ people on the Co-op Board’s has been seen (pace Myners) as a problem.  It could and should be seen as just the opposite – as potentially giving the Group a competitive business edge over non-cooperative competitors.  (Admittedly, I accept that that word ‘potentially’ is necessary in this assertion).

I think we can now start to make an early assessment of Myners’ contribution to the Group during his short time on the Board. I fear that my verdict would be a negative one. I think Myners was too hidebound by his experience of traditional finance sector Boards and their way of doing corporate governance, and too autocratic in the way he approached his task at the Group.  This is a pity: a leader with more sensitivity to cooperative heritage and culture could have led the movement towards taking a historically momentous step towards a more accountable and democratic way of operating.