History of International Newspapers: Le Figaro in France

About the International newspaper Le Figaro published in France, history and information.

LE FIGARO (Paris, France)

The Past. In 1826, a Parisian named Maurice Allhoy began a small witty newspaper featuring fashion, theater, manners, politics, and morals. It was the forerunner of the present-day Figaro. In the 1850s, Henri de Villemessant, then editor, began to buy material from writers like Rochefort, Alexandre Dumas, and Baudelaire. In the letters column, Villemessant carried on a political dialogue with his readers, becoming noted for his biting one-line answers to long-winded letters. In 1866, Le Figaro became a daily.

Villemessant's metaphor, in which he compares a newspaper to a department store, has been used by many journalists as a kind of philosophy of their profession. He said, "Like a well-stocked store, a newspaper should offer in its different departments, known in the profession as columns, everything that its clientele could need. It is necessary that I please serious people; it is also necessary that I am agreeable to lighthearted people or those who wish to refresh their spirits for a while." He also compared editing a newspaper to giving a dinner party at which both "harvesters and city people" had to be entertained: "Whether one likes it or not, it is necessary to give to each of my guests what suits his taste and his stomach, and, to return to my comparison of the department store, I expand my columns in order that everyone can find an ample supply of what he needs."

In 1922, the paper was bought by Francois Coty, the millionaire cosmetics manufacturer, who used it as a backup for a foray into politics. The paper lost much of its punch. Then in 1934 Coty died, and his ex-wife took over, immediately giving the editorship to Pierre Brisson, a highly respected journalist, and the paper's reputation began to soar.

At the beginning of W. W. II, Le Figaro was known as one of the best papers--if not the best paper--in France. When Paris fell to the Germans, Brisson took the paper to Lyons and continued to publish it under the Petain regime. Then, forced by the Vichy Government and the Germans to say what he didn't believe, he shut the paper down. After the war, Le Figaro began again.

Between 1945 and 1950, circulation grew to 450,000. Conservative politically, it spoke out against communism and backed a movement to bring General de Gaulle back into power. Francois Mauriac, columnist and novelist, daily attacked L'Humanite, the leading communist paper. Usually for the U.S., Le Figaro represents the French bourgeoisie, not the liberals.

The paper's excellent reputation is due largely to Pierre Brisson, who died in 1964.

By 1969, Jean Prouvost, a textile manufacturer and newspaper entrepreneur, and Ferdinand Beghin, a sugar and paper industrialist, owned between them 97% of Le Figaro's shares. For a while, they attempted to control the paper's editorial policy. However, through an employee-ownership plan which took place later, the editors of the paper now have a deciding voice in Le Figaro's management.

The Present. Le Figaro, which has been called the "morning bible of France's upper middle class," is considered one of the best-written papers in France. Still conservative, it emphasizes domestic and foreign politics, economics, and the arts. Many of its features are hard to classify--not quite editorials, they are not exactly factual accounts or essays either.

The usual issue has a headline-heavy front page with several short articles, features, and editorial cartoons. In addition to several pages of news, the paper includes in-depth features on economics as well as on aspects of the arts. It is written by its excellent staff and several outside contributors.

Scoops. Le Figaro was the only French daily to cover the Jack Ruby trial and to send a reporter on President Johnson's trip to Southeast Asia in November, 1966.

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