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Free-paper battle looms

The free sheet will focus on news, sport and features

(Keystone)

A new free newspaper, Le Matin Bleu, is hoping to corner the French-speaking market when it launches in western Switzerland later this year.

But the newssheet could face competition in the shape of a French version of 20 Minuten, the best-read paper in the German-speaking area.

Le Matin Bleu is the latest paper from the stable of Edipresse, the Lausanne-based publishing house which produces the leading dailies Le Matin, Tribune de Genève and 24 heures. Edipresse also has a 47 per-cent stake in the other main French-language paper, Le Temps.

The new daily will be distributed free to the public in the Lake Geneva area.

Meanwhile, across the country in Zurich, the Tamedia publishing house is deliberating whether to launch a free French newspaper to rival that of Edipresse.

"Our research indicates that the western Swiss market is receptive to this kind of publication," said Eta Pavlovic, Tamedia spokeswoman.

The secretary-general of Presse Romande, an association of newspaper editors in western Switzerland, believes it is highly likely that Tamedia will jump on the bandwagon. Alfred Haas predicts stiff competition between the two new titles.

Blue and orange

Le Matin Bleu is designed to complement its stablemate Le Matin, the most widely read paper in western Switzerland with a publishing run of 350,000.

The two titles combined expect a total readership of 450,000, which will make them the most important vehicle for advertising in the region.

Despite the similarity of their name, the papers will have very different styles, according to Théo Bouchat, who heads the free newspaper project at Edipresse.

Like its sister paper with the orange masthead, Le Matin Bleu will offer a mixture of news, sport and features. But the newcomer will rely more heavily on agency reports, with fewer researched items and scoops.

In common with the other free papers, Le Matin Bleu targets that section of the population who rarely read a daily newspaper, namely young city dwellers.

Threat to dailies

But the arrival of the newssheet is still a worry for the region's dailies. Editor-in-chief of the Tribune de Genève, Dominique von Burg, warns that the free paper will eat into the market of the established papers.

If the Tamedia group also joins the fray, some titles could suffer a drop in advertising revenue, believes Christophe Zimmermann, the co-director of the Erasm research institute. "The arrival of a free sheet threatens the regional dailies," said Zimmermann.

"And in using the Le Matin name for its free paper, Edipresse risks devaluing the title in question."

According to Zimmermann, the success of the free papers stems from the crisis within the traditional media. Because a growing number of people are rejecting their commentaries and campaigns on behalf of this or that political camp.

"These people prefer their information raw, as the success of teletext proves. They see this as perfectly objective information. But that is a deception as all information has to be presented somehow."

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

Owned entirely by Edipresse and edited in Geneva and Lausanne, Le Matin Bleu intends to present information in a concise and user-friendly way. It will employ 15 journalists.

It will be distributed on weekdays in town centres and on the public transport network across the Lake Geneva area.

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