Match point | Monocle

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Olivier Royant rushes into his office. It’s Monday morning and the news of the Jewish school shooting in Toulouse has just broken. A pressing consultation with deputy editor Régis Le Sommier and a couple of phone calls later, six reporters and three photographers are on their way from Paris to join the Toulouse-based stringer. In total, Paris Match would have a team of 10 reporting first-hand on the shooting.

It will be another coffee-and-cigarette Monday night at the office to make sure that everything is completed on time for the Tuesday 15.00 deadline. Not an unusual scenario for Royant. In his six years as editor-in-chief (and almost 30 with the magazine), he’s been through plenty of last-minute story drops, new leads and tweaks to the layout imposed on copy deadline day. And it’s not the first time he’s had to dispatch his journalists in a matter of minutes to report on a breaking story.

“Paris Match is always behind the curtain, behind the lines. People expect us to be there and tell the real story,” the 49-year-old explains after the regular three-hour Monday meeting with the section editors. To the indulged, info-fatigued Anglo-Saxon eye, Paris Match is a controversial jumble of ¡Hola! and the late, iconic Life. To the French, it’s a must-buy, must-read weekly.

Created in 1949 by the media mogul Jean Prouvost with the merger of the remains of pre-war Paris Soir and Match publications, Paris Match was acquired by ex-photographer Daniel Filipacchi in 1976. Today it’s part of Hachette Filipacchi Médias, owned by Lagardère.

The magazine covers a wide range of often clashing topics from breaking international news to gossipy socialite lifestyle: a picturesque bundle habitually wrapped up behind a celebrity themed cover. In its pages, editorials on the latest French election polls and shots of Imran Khan praying on the terrace of his villa in Islamabad sit next to photos of Carla Bruni’s first stroll with her new-born and a report on the Dior party at Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild.

“Our readers expect this rollercoaster of topics and emotions,” says Royant. “And it’s always the personal angle we are after, no matter whether we report on the presidential elections, the Arab Spring or Prince Harry’s Jamaica visit.”

Personal or not, what is undisputable even for the non-French speakers is the weekly’s loyalty to old-school journalism. Paris Match is among a handful of magazines that relies on first-hand coverage, sending its reporters to all corners of the world. The weekly is one of a dying breed of publications that still employs eight full-time staff photographers, accounting for over 40 per cent of the photos used in each issue. This devotion to telling a story via images is also demonstrated by Paris Match’s breathtaking photo archive, housing original shots from the very first issue in 1949.

Photographer Alvaro Canovas and senior correspondent Alfred de Montesquiou are Paris Match institutions. The former has been working for the magazine for over 20 years, the latter joined in 2010 after six years as a war reporter with ap. “I wanted to work more in my native language and culture,” explains de Montesquiou who’s also fluent in English and Arabic. “Our weekly format allows me to take a step back, work on longer pieces and follow up on two, three stories at a time.” The 33-year-old’s career includes stints in Haiti, Darfur and Syria, often shoulder-to-shoulder with Canovas. Both recently returned from Islamabad where, while covering Imran Khan’s latest political rally, they got a picture exclusive of his house.

“Rare occasions like this make me feel privileged to work for Paris Match,” gushes Canovas, who last year spent 10 days in Paris’s military hospital after being wounded in the Tripoli uprisings. His undeniably laissez-faire attitude comes as a surprise, given the risks of his day-to-day work life. “I take it as it goes,” he says. “I don’t see myself as a brave war photographer. I am aware of the dangers and consider myself as professional rather than courageous. I am just doing my job.” De Montesquiou adds, amused: “We started calling it a light form of schizophrenia: each of us has two parallel lives – one on the field and one here at home in Paris.”

Isn’t all this hard news coverage undermined by the tittle-tattle covers? News deputy Marion Mertens and politics editor Ludovic Vigogne join the debate. “This is what sells the magazine. A good colourful cover always sells best,” says Vigogne. “However, our readers are aware that what’s on the cover won’t necessarily be a main story in the magazine,” adds Royant quoting Richard Stolley, the founding editor of People magazine: “tv is better than music, music is better than movies, movies are better than sports, and anything is better than politics.”

A slapdown for Vigogne? Not exactly. The 37-year-old editor’s national news section has been drawing increasing attention due to the French presidential elections. “We have an online poll that updates daily at 18.00, giving us the latest election predictions voted by the people,” he says. Former editor at the news mag L’Express, Vigogne is now a respected home affairs expert and a regular guest on primetime tv debates.

With a domestic circulation of more than 620,000 copies, 20 per cent of sales are still made in the capital. “Readers expect us to decode Paris for them, to remain Parisian in a way but not to be elitist,” says Royant. Adding to the revenues are 64,000 international newsstand sales from 120 countries and a Paris Match Belgique edition, relaunched 10 years ago, which sells 35,000 copies a week.

Today, Paris Match relies evenly on newsstand sales, subscriptions and advertising. “They say keeping two of these revenue pillars afloat is good enough to ensure the future of any publication. We have all three of them equally stable,” says publisher Edouard Minc. Quoting Warren Buffett on free content, Minc defends the magazine’s policy of never offering online articles for free. Instead, the magazine has launched an iPad app allowing readers to download content for €1.

It’s 09.00, Tuesday. Six hours before the deadline. Piles of magazines; a plethora of Post-it notes randomly pegged to computer screens; lighters on desks giving away the chain-smoking habits of their owners: the editors work away furiously under the scrutinising eyes of failed marriages and love scandals hanging off the walls. But even in the closing hours of production, the corridors on the third floor of the Lagardère building, in the up-and-coming Levallois-Perret suburb, keep their frenzy-free feel, only occasionally interrupted by the clicking heels of a rushed reporter and the tactful “excusez-moi” dropped in with a due French politeness. Everyone seems overwhelmingly friendly and if it wasn’t for the “vous” when addressing each other, nothing else would give away the title hierarchy.

“There are no set work hours, every one knows their responsibilities and comes in whenever needed and stays until the job is done,” says New Jersey-born Karyn Bauer, pa to the editor-in-chief, trying to justify this efficiently busy but still somehow stress-free environment. What about lunch breaks? “Ah, food is sacred in France,” she says, smiling. “Lunch can sometimes take up to two hours.” And to assure everyone eats well, there’s a ground-floor canteen, open late on Mondays. Chef Emmanuel Lejeune, meanwhile, cooks for senior staff at the restaurant on the top floor.

Despite the controversies the magazine covers – or maybe because of them – with its “pas de photo, pas de sujet” motto, Paris Match remains the trusted voice for news in France, proving right the old saying, “never judge a book (or in this case, a magazine) by its cover.”

Paris Match in numbers

1949: Year ‘Paris Match’ was launched by Jean Prouvost

52: Number of regular issues a year. It comes out every Thursday   

620,214: Weekly circulation in France. The global circulation is 690,678

2.40: Euro price in France per issue. An annual subscription costs €103

95: Number of full-time editorial staff

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