Front-Page Freedom

photo: entry expo, palais brongniart

The entry to the exhibition and the Palais Brongniart.

Exhibition: The Press In Paris

Paris:- Wednesday, 8. March 2000:- Since late last year I have been waiting with curiosity for the exhibition called 'Freedom for the Front Page,' or "Liberté à la Une" - 'De la Gazette... à Internet.'

Now that it really has begun, I give it its first test. Despite nearly five years of reporting about Paris, my expired official press card is useless. As far as I know, no official press cards are attributed to online journalists, if their reporting is not distributed in any other way.

The first 'test' of this exhibition is for me to get into it. Its location is in the former residence of the Paris Bourse in the Palais Brongniart. The exhibition 'passes the test' because there is no entry charge.

It also 'passes,' because when I say I am doing a report for the Internet, I am welcomed. I cannot tell whether this is becausephoto: original press my colleagues in other media have totally ignored this event, or because they have 'covered' it to death and the press service expects me to give it one more little push.

This I will do. The press, the media, reporters, photographers, editors and everybody else involved with giving you your daily - minute by minute, on the quarter-hour, hourly - news updates, are getting dumped on a lot lately.

A working model of Théophraste Renaudot's first press.

We are the bearers of 'bad' news. We ask questions we shouldn't. We publish answers by people who do not necessarily realize that we are going to do so. Above all, we are after 'news' and if it is dirty, it sells better.

It 'sells' better because its consumers prefer 'dirty' news to idle chit-chat. Even if it is 'good' news - somebody wins - by implication there are 'losers.'

'Losers' by definition are not 'news' unless they are celebrated as serial killers, or some such other negative nonsense.

But if there were only 'winners' then there would be no drama. People living in places where the big hats - the ones with guns and tanks - decide what the 'news' will be; they know about this lack of drama. This lack translates into servitude, not citizenship.

Our modern 'press' had a beginning, which was the technical innovation of the printing press. Before this, everything was hand-written, and readership was limited to those who had access to hand-made documents.

From the entry to the Palais Brongniart, the history starts by turning left. Théophraste Renaudot is presented as history's first journalist, a profession he invented in 1631 with the publication of the 'Gazette.'

On view is a working replica of his press, and replica copies of the first Gazette are reproduced with it. As a reminder, Johann Gutenbergphoto: expo display, 1789 marat invented moveable type in the 15th century so it was around a long time before anybody thought of inventing newspapers - a printed daily 'journal' for anybody to read.

Rare contemporary flyers and leaflets from the Révolution; on display with Marat's profile.

Théophraste Renaudot's original Gazette was sponsored by Cardinal Richelieu, just as he was manoeuvering France into the Thirty Years War; in 1762 it became the Gazette de France. It ceased publication in 1914.

The first press begins the corridor of history, which presents the French press in its various stages - past the Révolution of 1789, the Terror and Napoléon - the press law of 29. July 1881 - the Dreyfus affair and WWI censorship, and the 'ordonnances' of 1944.

Many of the window displays contain rare documents, and there are video displays featuring documentary films or editors discussing 'events' and the why and how of their coverage.

After the corridor, in the centre, under the high coupole of the Palais Brongniart, there is a vast space where seven themes are treated - distribution - the rights and responsibilities of journalists - the 'freedom' of cartoonists - an area for the Agence France Presse - money and the press - and a section featuring the 'enemies' of a free press.

How editors and journalists actually decide what is going to get into print is also displayed in 'le choix des mots, le goût des photos.' One video-episode has a Paris Match editor defending the decision to run a known fake photo of Princess Diana's fatal car crash.

Just to remind everybody of a basic element of the press, there are several rolls of newsprint here too. Beyond the large space, 200 square metres are set apart for a 'newsroom.'

Here is it possible, using computers, to make two different newspapers, based on live news items fromphoto: reports sans frontiers Agence France Presse - with a photo selection available. Treated are the editorial content, the headlines, the proof-reading and layout. The end result is printed.

Many of the aspects of the whole exhibition are interactive, but the 'newsroom' really lets the non-initiated get a feel for the decisions that editors make as a daily part of their jobs.

'Reporters San Frontières' display shows those 'missing in action.'

All of this 'news-work' can make a visitor hungry and thirsty, so there is also a café, 'Chez Albert,' for stoking up lost calories. In my own time in Hamburg it was called the 'Vis-à-Vis' and it wasn't nearly as fancy.

The whole exhibition is fascinating for me, but it is about my work. It is hard for me to tell whether you will find it as interesting.

It is also based mostly on the French press, so if you are interested in how all the papers and magazines you see on kiosks in Paris get there, then do not pass this up. If history is your interest, then you see scraps of it here - as it was seen by the press.

The exhibition is also a 'toe in the water' for an eventual permanent 'Cité de la Presse' - for Paris has no museum devoted to the press. To this effect, an association has been created - the same one that has mounted this exhibition, which is also sponsored by the Ville de Paris.

Do You Need To Know 'News?'

More new information is created every day than can 'fit' into the world's press on any given day. The decisions made about what gets printed and what does not are complex; involving people, geography, budgets, philosophy and cranky editors who are trying to out-think another editor across town - or across the world.

If all the 'news' created on any given day were dumped on you in raw lots, you wouldn't be able to see any forest because you would be buried under a load of trees.

The function of the press is not to filter this waterfall - but to try to snatch any good fish out of it as they whiz by. Naturally some of the good fish get missed entirely, and others get badly mangled in the grab.

But the 'news' isn't something physical like a fish. It is fuzzy information, disinformation, rumor, invention, gossip - there's nothing about it that will stand up to any scientific principle. 'News' can be verified up to a point but it can seldom be proved. There's no time to run it through a court anyway.

Conditioned by the hands of ordinary human beings, what appears as 'news' is never more than a relative approximation of the truth.

But this is no reason to abandon your 'news' sources. You can treat these just as an editor should - with the same who, why, what, where, when and how - with the same healthy dose of skepticism.

If any of 'w's above are unanswered, then you have to step back and try to decide whether aphoto: typewriter particular story is a 'stand-alone' or part of an ongoing history. If it is the latter, then you might be able to guess where it's going based on what has already happened.

Yesterday's keyboard has same layout as today's.

The 'news' isn't necessarily in the eye of the eyewitness; half of it is what you think it is. If you merely consume and don't think about the 'news,' then you shouldn't complain about others not doing their half of the job correctly.

A new factor is the Internet, because it allows single-person editorial decisions. The good side to this state of the press is the lack of the traditional constraints posed by the organ's proprietor; political philosophy or business commitments.

The bad side can be the single-person's simple lack of credibility. 'No governor' means no constraints of any sort - leaving readers alone to decide whether the 'news' is believable or not.

On the Internet, lack of professionalism, ethics, scope, fairness and honesty are traits that readers are left to consider for themselves.

On the Internet, readers often get an opportunity to choose their sources, and it is this factor that will make the first big change in the 'news game' in 369 years.

Putting like this - 369 years - puts into perspective the relative newness of mass-produced 'news.' Curious, I took a look at what two French historians had to say about 'the press.'

One mentions the printing of cheap books - from which Gutenberg himself did not profit much - but which did put ideas into circulation. The other, more eminent, says nothing about printing or the press - doubting in fact that man 'makes' history rather than the other way around.

The press, as far as history is concerned, is not - yet - part of the long view. All of the front pages combined so far have been for nothing except daily entertainment.

Liberté à la Une - De la Gazette à Internet
Palais Brongniart, Paris 2. Métro Bourse. Until Sunday, 14. May. Open daily from 10:00 to 19:00. Free entry. Info. Tel.: 01 40 20 01 27.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini