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L’Avenir newspaper launches co-operative and €1m fundraising bid
Staff at Belgium’s French-speaking regional daily L’Avenir have launched a co-operative to raise at least €1 million to earn on a seat on the management board and guarantee future editorial freedom for the 100-year-old paper.
In a first for a Belgian daily, the setting up of the co-operative Notre Avenir in November came one year after owner Walloon utility company Nethys announced major restructuration with plans to cut 60 full-time positions out of a total workforce of 280. L’Avenir consists of nine regional print and digital editions covering the whole of Wallonia.
Following months of bitter negotiations and strike action by staff, finally 45 full-time positions were lost in editorial and commercial departments. They included three journalists sacked in March, estimated to be on the company’s black list.
Nethys said the "redeployment plan" aimed to guarantee the publisher's survival in the context of widespread decline in print newspaper sales.
The company renounced its shares in L’Avenir’s editions and put the company up for sale in September, sparking the action of its employees. “We don’t want to run the newspaper, we simply want to have a say in its management,” insisted Albert Jallet, one of the co-operative’s co-founders and L’Avenir’s association of professional journalists (AJP) representative.
The co-operative has outlined a number of objectives, including having a seat at the management table to ensure editorial freedom and maximise staff’s media and production expertise, said Jallet.
It also aims to get all of L’Avenir’s personnel on board, not only journalists. So far, around 100 members of staff have joined the action.
Widespread solidarity for the co-operative has come from the AJP, the Walloon Region and the Federation Wallonia-Brussels, among others. And most importantly, the newspaper’s print and digital audience. “During the upheaval of the past year, we realised that we had the support of readers. There’s enormous potential and we have already been surprised by the number of shares individuals are taking,” added Jallet.
Personal investors can join the co-operative by buying at least one €50 share, while public and private businesses need to buy at least 100 shares at a minimum cost of €5,000.
Jallet is confident that the €1 million target will be reached. “There’s an awareness that it’s possible to do things differently, that there are alternatives,” he said.
Notre Avenir welcomed the recent successful crowdfunding campaign for NewB, a new ethical and sustainable bank that successfully hit its €30 million fundraising target in November.