A News Revolution for Young People Takes Root in France

PARIS — At first glance, the office looks like that of any video production start-up — modern furniture, a video game console, a Buzz Lightyear action figure and nobody who looks over 30. But this bustling office in a hip neighborhood of Paris is in fact one of France’s most successful new newsrooms.

From here, Hugo Travers, often dressed in a hoodie and sneakers, posts the top stories of the day to his huge audience on YouTube and other social platforms, using videos and text to reach young people across France who are increasingly shunning traditional media.

“This generation grew up with social media,” Mr. Travers, who is 25 and is known online as HugoDécrypte, or Hugo Deciphers, said in an interview. “They won’t start reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV at 30.”

With 1.6 million subscribers on his main channel on YouTube, 2 million followers on Instagram and 2.4 million on TikTok, HugoDécrypte has become a leading news source for young French people. Mr. Travers has interviewed Bill Gates, President Emmanuel Macron of France and 10 of the 12 candidates in the country’s presidential election this year.

His success, which has spawned several imitators, comes as interest in the news among young French people has fallen to the lowest level in 20 years, according to one poll. People aged 18-29 are also less likely than older adults to think news outlets are doing a good job at getting the facts right, or covering all the important stories of the day, another poll found.

Cergy-Pontoise, near Paris, last year. Social platforms have proven effective at reaching French youth who may not seek out other sources of news.Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

“This new generation of YouTubers have professionalized, they have formats that work to such an extent that presidential candidates know that they must be interviewed by them to address the next generation,” said Justine Ryst, managing director of YouTube France.

While the methods of Mr. Travers and other YouTubers have helped them reach a large new audience of people who may not otherwise seek out news sources, some critics say they nonetheless pose significant challenges for journalism and news literacy in France.

The sheer amount of online content aimed at this audience is also contributing to informational chaos and confusion about what is news and what is misinformation, media analysts say.

“The difficulty is the multiplication of YouTubers,” said Elena Pavel, a history and geography teacher at Collège Georges Rouault, a middle school located in a low-income neighborhood of Paris, and a coordinator for Clemi, a media literacy program within the Education Ministry.

Young people “make absolutely no distinction between an opinion YouTuber and a news YouTuber,” she added, citing the danger of false information and conspiracy theories spreading.

Members of the news media crowding around President Emmanuel Macron during a campaign visit to Le Havre, France, in April.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Still, she said, she had no hesitation recommending Mr. Travers to her students.

Mr. Travers, a chatty and cheerful graduate of Sciences Po, an elite Parisian university, said he started his YouTube channel in 2015 because he sensed a discrepancy between how news was traditionally delivered to the public and the way young people consumed information: via social media. He decided to create a new kind of newscast with serious content aimed at that young audience.

He said he had tried to present nonpartisan views and insisted on high journalistic standards.

Others have followed his lead, like Gaspard Guermonprez, 24, who runs similar accounts on YouTube and Instagram under the name Gaspard G.

Students in Trappes, a suburb of Paris, last year. Elena Pavel, a middle school teacher, said she would not hesitate to recommend Mr. Travers’s channel to her students.Credit…Cyril Zannettacci for The New York Times

“Today, the type of content that we are doing is growing, much more so than entertainment or lifestyle content,” Mr. Guermonprez said.

Mr. Travers and Mr. Guermonprez have created their own companies, with employees assisting them in content creation and production. They both did extensive work on the presidential and legislative elections this year, dissecting platforms and interviewing candidates.

Mr. Travers’s interviews with two presidential candidates — Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, and Jean Lassalle, a center-right politician who claims to represent the “deep France” ignored by the urban elite — are among the ten most-viewed videos about the elections in French on YouTube.

Media analysts attribute Mr. Travers’s popularity to his ability, as a digital native himself, to understand what appeals to young people.

“He is closer to his audience with his way of talking, of being; he is not wearing a suit but a T-shirt,” said Lisa Bolz, a researcher at Celsa, the communications and journalism school at the Sorbonne.

Océane Pan, a 16-year-old high school student, who was waiting in line to study at a library in Paris on a recent Saturday, said she stayed informed mostly through HugoDécrypte on Instagram and YouTube. She said she liked his content because “he always reads the comments under his videos and he tries to address the negative feedback.”

Presidential election posters in Stiring-Wendel, France, in April. Both Mr. Travers and Mr. Guermonprez covered the election extensively.Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

“The dialogue with my followers is essential,” Mr. Travers said. He cited an instance when he swapped out a YouTube video presenting the platform of the left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon because his audience commented that the proposals it focused on, like legalizing cannabis and lowering the voting age to 16, seemed marginal. The new video instead focused more on Mr. Mélenchon’s economic programs.

Mr. Guermonprez said one challenge he faced was reaching a broader swath of young French people. He said that based on a survey he conducted, his followers were predominantly young adults who came from privileged backgrounds.

“We are aware of our own bias and we don’t want to hammer out privileged urban issues to the vast majority of French people,” he said. “The keys are the tone and the way we deliver the content. This is still something we can improve on.”

Media analysts say that providing political news that keeps young audiences engaged has become all the more critical as interest in politics seems to be sliding in France. In the second round of the presidential election this year, 41 percent of people aged 18-24 abstained from voting, more than among the other surveyed age groups. And 75 percent of those aged 18-24 skipped voting in the first round of the parliamentary elections on June 12.

The YouTubers were looked at with some skepticism by traditional media when they got started. (“There was some contempt,” Mr. Travers said.) But Mr. Guermonprez, who attended business school in Canada, said that they had since proven themselves by making great advances in figuring out the most effective means of delivering news.

Mr. Guermonprez, center right, interviewing the politician Bruno Le Maire, a supporter of President Macron.Credit…Hamilton de Oliveira

“Tomorrow, media brands will be faces and not logos,” Mr. Guermonprez said.

Ms. Ryst of YouTube France said one effect of the success of the news YouTubers was that French digital publishers were increasingly having reporters appear in their videos, so that viewers feel a sense of connection with them.

Still, many media analysts are divided about whether the efforts of YouTubers like Mr. Travers and Mr. Guermonprez are serious journalism.

Newspapers on sale this month. YouTubers like Mr. Travers and Mr. Guermonprez are aiming to reach people who don’t read newspapers or watch television news.Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Ms. Bolz, the researcher, said it was hard to say that uploading summaries for Mr. Travers’s “News of the Day” could be considered journalism. But, she conceded, journalism “has always been a constantly evolving profession.”

Mr. Travers acknowledged that “the lines are blurred,” but added, “I don’t think this is a problem.”

Mr. Travers and Mr. Guermonprez both say their editorial teams are composed of professional journalists who maintain high standards, citing the ethics codes they have in place and the methods they use for gathering news.

But Mr. Guermonprez said many people in France had still not accepted the fact that the world of news had changed.

“Maybe it’s part of the French neurosis,” he said. “We need some time to accept change.”

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