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'Charlie Hebdo' Staff Divided Over Magazine's Newfound Millions

A collective of journalists at the French satirical magazine has called for a review of its management structure and equal shares for employees.
April 1, 2015, 10:40pm
People lining up outside a Paris news stand to buy copies of Charlie Hebdo. Photo by John Beck/VICE News

Three months after two gunmen opened fire on the Paris offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, a rift has formed between a group of remaining journalists, some of whom were injured in the attack, and the publication's current management about the magazine's direction and disbursement of newly-acquired funds.

In an open letter published Wednesday in French daily Le Monde, 15 of the magazine's journalists said they wanted to "escape the trap of millions" — referring to the millions of euros that have been raised since the January 7 attack, both through donations and unprecedented sales of single issues and subscriptions.

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Related: 'Charlie Hebdo' Subscriptions Soar in Wake of Paris Attacks.

The journalists are also calling for a new "complete review" of the magazine's management structure, which they want to see evolve into a "sort of a cooperative," with equal shares for all employees, according to French daily Libération.

The newly-formed collective includes cartoonist Luz, who illustrated this week's cover — the magazine's seventh issue since the attack — featuring a grinning Nicolas Sarkozy, France's 23rd president who left office in 2012 but who hopes to secure the presidency again in the 2017 elections. The cartoon is accompanied by the mocking headline: "Who on earth would ever want to see this mug again?"

Les salariés de— Le JDD (@leJDD)April 1, 2015

In the letter, Luz and other Charlie Hebdo staffers highlight the magazine's recent shift from a relatively small publication to a "global symbol." Following the outpouring of solidarity in the wake of the attacks, the magazine has become a "common asset," shared by all those who defend its values, they wrote.

As such, the group has called for greater organizational transparency, as well as employee shareholding, to ensure all staffers can "take part collectively in decisions involving the newspaper."

Charlie Hebdo is currently divided among three primary shareholders. Forty percent is owned by the relatives of Charb, the magazine's former director and cartoonist who died in the shooting, while another 40 percent is owned by cartoonist Riss, who is still recovering after being wounded in the attack. The magazine's financial director Eric Portheault owns the remaining 20 percent stake.

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Libération noted that while the growing divisions within the Charlie Hebdo newsroom were palpable, some employees also felt a review of the magazine's structure and management is premature.

The "poisoned millions"
Prior to the attack that depleted most of the magazine's core editorial team, Charlie Hebdo was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, with some 8,000 subscribers and average sales of around 24,000 copies a week.

In November 2014, the magazine's staff, who are fiercely opposed to selling advertising or relying on outside shareholders, launched a fundraising campaign to try and save the weekly from going under.

Since the attack, the magazine has seen a soar in sales. It now has 220,000 subscribers, and the "survivors' issue," which was published a week after the shooting, sold close to 8 million copies, bringing in 12 million euros ($12.9 million) in revenue.

"There has been a massive display of solidarity and the amount received in donations and anticipated revenue is off the scale," Charlie Hebdo's attorney Richard Malka told Le Monde. "Charlie Hebdo was not built to handle so much money."

Speaking to Libération in February, Luz described the magazine's newfound wealth as "the poisoned millions."

The magazine has also received funding from international news groups, such as The Guardian Media Group, which announced a donation of 100,000 GBP (approximately $222,000) in the wake of the attacks, and the Google-backed Digital Press Fund, which contributed 250,000 euros ($269,000) to sustain the publication.

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The magazine also collected 3 million euros ($3.2 million) in individual donations through its JaideCharlie.fr (I Help Charlie) giving campaign. Those donations will be paid out directly to the families of the Paris attack victims.

Related: Exclusive Interview with 'Charlie Hebdo' Cartoonist Luz. Watch here.

The main objective of the 15 Charlie Hebdo journalists is to keep the magazine going, they claim. The collective said it wants to set aside the publication's "incredible financial reserves… to ensure the sustainability of the magazine for the next 10, 20 or 30 years, using profits to strengthen the publication, clear its debts, and [underwrite] development and necessary modernization."

While the magazine's current financial position appears secure, the publication still faces enormous challenges in the wake of the terror attacks. Writing in Le Monde, journalist Raphaëlle Bacqué said one of the greatest challenges for the magazine is finding the next crop of illustrators and writers, with many potential candidates reluctant to sign cartoons with their real names or attend editorial conferences.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho