Female editor-in-chief at leading newspaper is forced out — in France


Natalie Nougayrede was elected director of the French newspaper Le Monde in March 2013. (Miguel Medina/ AFP/Getty Images)

It's been a bad week for women in media on both sides of the pond. On the same day we learned of Jill Abramson's forced departure from the New York Times, the leading French daily, Le Monde, announced the resignation of its own female editor-in-chief, Natalie Nougayrède, who had been in charge for just a year.

Following her resignation, Nougayrède issued a personal letter, published on Le Monde's Web site. "I cannot accept being undermined as head of the paper," she wrote. "I no longer have the means to run it with all the necessary peace and serenity that is required."

Troubles surfaced last week at Le Monde when a slew of top editors resigned en masse. In an internal letter to management that was leaked, they said a "lack of confidence in and communication with editorial management prevents us from fulfilling our roles as chief editors." The assumption, now, is that they were referring in part to difficulties in dealing with Nougayrède.

Since her resignation, reports have emerged gesturing to Nougayrède's "authoritarian" and "Putin-like" personality; the editor was supposedly difficult to talk to. Such complaints carry a disturbing echo of the labels used to define Abramson's manner — "pushy", "brusque" — and raise similar questions about the double-standards in the way we view men and women in positions of leadership.

By many accounts, Nougayrède presided over a newsroom in turmoil and transition, and her efforts to expand Le Monde's digital enterprise and make it more profitable ruffled the feathers of colleagues.

Le Monde is the paper of record in France— rivaled, perhaps, only by the center-right Le Figaro — and has been in circulation since the end of World War II. It is steeped in tradition: One of its most remarkable institutional practices is the election of its top editor by journalists in the newsroom after ownership selects a handful of candidates. Nougayrede won an impressive 80 percent of the vote in March 2013. Opinion of her tenure since then is clearly more divided.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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