A typographer adjusts the letters of the „Democrat of Aisne“, the last hebodmadaire in Europe composed lead, January 2, 2018 in Vervins
Installed on an old linotype, Jenny, 21, types the next issue of the Democrat of Aisne, founded in 1906 in France. With her young colleagues, she ensures at all costs the future of the last European weekly composed lead, which cultivates its specificity in the face of the omnipresence of digital.
In the workshop hidden behind a square in Vervins, a town of 2,500 inhabitants about thirty kilometers from the Belgian border, a smell of lead irritates the throat, in the clatter of machines of the 1970s.
The smartphone nearby, Jenny Braconnier continues strumming on the huge typewriter. „It’s a bit of a place to do here,“ she says, aware of her „uncommon profession“ since her arrival three years ago with a contract.
Each keystroke on the keyboard toggles a „matrix“ from a „store“, forming lead cast lines, then arranged by hand in the pages. To the millimeter. „There is no more school, no more studies, I learned everything in a few months“ before the retirement of two former typographers.
On the menu of four large-format pages: monitoring the agricultural news of this rural department in north-eastern France, but also articles on greeting cards and the balance sheet of anti-fraud operations in 2017.
Eleonore Dufrenois, journalist and deputy director of the newspaper, poses with a number of the „Democrat of the Aisne“, January 2, 2018 in Vervins
In February 1906, a Corsican, Pascal Ceccaldi, came to settle in Thiérache, founds the Democrat Vervinois, then daily. Elected deputy, it remains „political director“, as specified on a yellowed edition of July 1907, carefully preserved.
The Democrat crosses the century, reaching a circulation of 20,000 copies. Up to 20 typographers were busy going out six pages each day, covering political and associative news.
– Assure succession –
From now on, there are five young people under 35 years old to compose, according to the techniques of the beginning of the 20th century, the weekly drawn with 1,500 copies at 60 centimes, supported by two former typographers on the departure, under the eye of the director of publication.
„I started a succession,“ said Jacques Piraux, 76, also president of the Friends of the Democrats, an association in 1987 took the newspaper on the verge of liquidation, convinced that „young people can adapt.“
Last recruit arrived in December, Nicolas Laplace, 29, draws in the case the characters in lead, tin and antimony, and slides in the composter, upside down, to create titles. „Initially, it’s not obvious,“ admits the one who is destined to replace his eldest Bernard Leroy.
Five young people under 35 work in the workshop to manufacture the newspaper, January 2, 2018 in Vervins
„The problem is that we can not find the parts to repair these machines, very sensitive,“ laments the former typographer Mr. Leroy, 76, while the newspaper desperately looking for a new linotype.
In September, the 1927 press broke down, requiring digital printing for three months.
„The clutch jumped and the belt too,“ says „roto head“ Kévin Germain, 26, a car mechanic training, placing the paper between the inking rollers.
– ‚Atypical‘ –
The pieces had to be modeled in steel by a foundry to revive the machine.
„That’s what makes us specific, for half.The other half is the composition itself, the columns, the lead, the latest in Europe,“ said Eleonore Dufrenois, the thirties, deputy director and journalist. „People buy us because we are different in substance and in form, we are atypical“.
A specificity rewarded at the end of November by the prize „crush“ at the trade show of the press in the future. While all newspapers have switched to the internet, the Democrat has resisted the digital surge.
The texts of the „Democrat of the Aisne“ type typed linotype, as since 1906, January 2, 2018 in Vervins
„I did not experience it at first, I was afraid of losing readers, but that was not the case,“ says Piraux. The number of subscribers, for 26 euros a year, „increases steadily“: they are around 1,100, including French expatriates in Hong Kong and Sydney who receive their newspaper every week by post.
Still, the newspaper, without advertising or subsidy for the sake of independence, which draws its main revenue from legal announcements, is struggling to balance, for a turnover of 150,000 euros.
One of the solutions? The creation of a foundation or museum on the history of printing, which the Democrat continues to write for 112 years.