While many newspapers face a fiscal crisis, Mediapart is making money as a hardhitting, investigative publication online. It is earning a reputation for holding French politicians and government accountable, while generating revenue from a subscriber-only revenue model. Freelance reporter Pierre Chauvin gives a snapshot of this rising journalism star in Europe.

‪By Pierre Chauvin

‪Mediapart is rare publication because it publishes exclusively online, focusing on investigative journalism. It also has a paywall and doesn’t rely on traditional advertising.

But, where this French news company is most unique is that it is profitable when so many others are struggling to make money. 

Created in 2008, Mediapart made headlines in 2010 with a series alleging that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy received illegal campaign donations from businesswoman Liliane Bettencourt. The investigation triggered several judicial inquiries and charges were laid last month.

This reporting heightened awareness around the value of its journalism.

“The only way to save our jobs, our profession, is to focus on the added value brought by the investigation and reporting of journalists,” said Edwy Plenel, Mediapart’s editor-in-chief. “People are ready to pay and to support us if they feel like we are bringing something that is not commonly found everywhere.”

For the second year in a row, Mediapart is profitable using a subscriber-only model. It generated €700,000 (C$924,879) of profits in 2012 with almost 65,000 subscribers, up from €500,000 (C$660,628) the previous year.

It has made a name for itself internationally for its numerous investigative reports. One high profile story in January it uncovered alleged secret offshore accounts held by Finance Minister Jérôme Cahuzac. The minister later resigned and is being investigated for fraud.

Mediapart publishes entirely behind a paywall, giving access to the Journal- an online newspaper assembled by the 31 journalists. It also recently launched FrenchLeaks, modeled after the famous whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

But Mediapart also collaborates with its readers: subscribers can access the Club, a collection of blogs where readers can debate, exchange information and tip off journalists.

“The idea of Mediapart is to create a new alliance between journalists and readers,” said Plenel.

While many publications are taking this approach with their audiences, this was unique in France.

“Journalists came down from their pedestals, they're not above their public,” he said.

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Plenel’s goal is to reach 100,000 subscribers in the next year to make Mediapart a “strong independent journal.”

For now, he says the website comes close to getting 3 million hits per month.

Mediapart is considered by some to be an alternative publication founded by print journalists with left-leaning tendencies. And, while it enjoys a strong reputation for investigation, it has also faced criticism and backlash.

The publications works hard to go beyond its articles by featuring live video debates with politicians, translates its most important articles into English and compiles its best investigations in e-books. Recently, it became a shareholder of InfoLibre, a Spanish news website based on Mediapart's model. Both publications are featuring each other's articles in their respective language.

“We're doing TV without the format of commercial TV,” said Plenel

“More than ever, journalists have to fight for the essence of their métier: creating information via investigation, reportage, and analysis.”

"Mediapart wants to position itself as a truly independent news outlet and, by using France as a sort of laboratory, show the entire business that there is a path that exists today towards creating value, towards creating quality news in the digital world."

Mediapart’s ownership is also quite unique: its journalists are its main shareholders, and its only form of revenue comes from subscriptions.

Mediapart is also a founding member of the Syndicat de la Presse Indépendante d'Information en Ligne (SPIIL), a union gathering online-based news companies in France, that has now more than 60 members.