“You Can’t Be an Expert in Everything”: Q&A With Le Monde’s In-House Legal Director

The media landscape in France shifted slightly at the end of 2021, when Le Monde—one of the most storied names in print journalism—bought out BuzzFeed’s stake in the French version of HuffPost to become majority owner of the online publication in France. Fieldfisher advised BuzzFeed and HuffPost with a team led by M&A partner Christopher Mesnooh in Paris; Groupe Le Monde was advised by Juliette Boukobza, the group’s in-house legal director. 

The deal, which brought the worlds of old and new media even closer together, also highlighted the multifaceted role of the in-house counsel at a publishing group—one that ranges from checking copy for libel to advising on M&A deals across the table from Big Law.

Boukobza spoke recently with Law.com International about the HuffPost deal, her position within Groupe Le Monde, and how the media players are realigning in France.

What were the main legal challenges in the HuffPost deal?

The main challenge was the tight calendar. BuzzFeed was planning its IPO for late in 2021, and we needed to get this done without getting in the way of that. Also, the technical aspects of managing the HuffPost site, migrating it to France, had to be worked out, since Le Monde was becoming majority owner.

One thing that was never in doubt was the desire of Le Monde to keep HuffPost in France and buy the shares—and the desire of BuzzFeed to sell to Le Monde.

How often does Le Monde rely on in-house counsel to handle matters like this, and how often do you call on outside counsel?

I have been at Le Monde for 15 years and, as legal director, I’m called on to advise on everything from libel to real estate to M&A. But you can’t be an expert in everything. I have no complexes about calling on outside counsel if I feel the need, or if management wants me to.

In this case, we didn’t feel the need. It was not a contentious negotiation. The main role of the lawyers was to convey information among all the parties. And since I know the company so well, and could get information quickly, that was an advantage. With Fieldfisher it was a true collaboration, and we worked very well together.

Taking control of HuffPost France is being seen as a move by Le Monde away from print and toward digital journalism, and a younger audience. Is that how it is seen inside Le Monde?

All publications want younger readers. But it’s not as simple as old vs. new media. Le Monde has a long history in print, it’s true, but it is very involved in digital. At the present time, it has 400,000 paid digital subscribers—out of a total subscriber base of 500,000. That’s colossal!

I don’t think Le Monde would have partnered with just any online publication. With HuffPost, there was an editorial coherence: The first editorial director of HuffPost France was Anne Sinclair, a formidable journalist. So a certain level of quality was at the heart of the project from the very beginning.