On Friday, Charlie Hebdo held its first editorial meeting since the deadly attack on its offices earlier this week. French newspaper Liberation lent Charlie Hebdo’s editors and collaborators space in its Paris headquarters to meet and talk about the tragedy and what the next edition of the satirical newspaper, slated for next Wednesday, should look like.
Charlie Hebdo’s editorial meeting will have lasted more than three hours in all. In addition to layout, subjects, and deadlines, they must also talk this Friday morning about the dead, the injured, tributes, funerals. The conference room where Liberation usually holds its daily meeting is occupied on this occasion by the satirical newspaper’s survivors. The room, lit from one side by a large, round window, is at once overheated and open to the four winds to let cigarette smoke float out.
On the large round table are computers loaned to the group by Le Monde. Sitting around the table are Willem, Luz, Coco, Babouse, Sigolene Vinson, Antonio Fischetti, Zineb El Rhazoui, Laurent Leger… In all, more than 25 people, with gray faces and swollen eyes, the hardcore, close friends or occasional collaborators, are there to prepare the next edition of Charlie Hebdo. It must come out next Wednesday, with 1 million copies to be printed, about 20 times their usual circulation.
“I could see everyone at the hospital,” begins Gerard Biard, the editor-in-chief of Charlie. “Riss’ right shoulder was injured, but the nerve wasn’t hit. He was clearly in a lot of pain. The first thing that he said was that he wasn’t sure that we could continue to publish the newspaper.” Fabrice Nicolino, struck multiple times in the attack, “is doing better,” even if he “is of course suffering a lot.” Patrick Pelloux, an emergency room doctor and columnist for Charlie, explains the jaw injury of another victim, Philippe Lançon, also a journalist for Liberation. Simon Fieschi, Charlie’s Webmaster, according to Pelloux, has been “put in an induced coma.” A young woman breaks down. “You don’t have to feel guilty,” Biard comforts her. Everyone hangs their head in silence. The woman who’s crying is journalist Sigolene Vinson, who was at the editorial meeting at the moment of the attack on Wednesday but was spared by the attackers.
Biard moves on to the dead. How to organise the funeral services? And the national tribute? With what sort of music? Still no flags? “We shouldn’t use a symbol that they would have hated,” notes someone sitting at the table. “They killed people who drew little cartoon men. Not flags. We must remember the simplicity of these people, of their work. Our friends are dead, but we’re not going to put them on display.” Everyone agrees.
A journalist explains that a crowdfunding campaign, spontaneously created on the Internet by strangers, has already collected 98,000 euros in less than 24 hours. Charlie’s survivors are inundated with subscription requests that they can’t handle at the moment. Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer, Richard Malka, speaks. “There’s money arriving from everywhere. Assistance, space, personnel to deal with requests…” “We have received support from lots of media sources,” echoes Christophe Thevenet, another lawyer for the newspaper. “There are donations, already 250,000 euros from the Press and Pluralism Association, the million euros pledged by Fleur Pellerin [the French minister of culture and communication]… You are going to have finances like never before at Charlie!” The lawyer would know something about that: He’s the one who developed the newspaper’s regulations and who runs the paper’s general meetings. These past few months, the weekly had put out a call for donations to try to replenish its coffers, which were in bad shape.
“So, are we doing the newspaper?” asks Biard, who, it’s apparent, wants to fight to the finish. “What do we put on its pages?” “I don’t know, what’s in the news?” asks Pelloux. Nervous giggles. Biard starts again: “I’d be in favour of doing a quote-unquote normal edition. Let the readers recognise Charlie. That’s not an exceptional edition.” “Not even hurt!” calls out someone at the table. Some people mention the idea of leaving blank spaces where those killed Wednesday would have written or drawn. In the end, the team is against the idea. “I don’t want there to be material emptiness,” argues Biard. “They must all be there, in the pages. And Mustapha too.” Mustapha Ourrad, the copy editor, is among the long list of those killed in Wednesday’s attack. “Then leave in my mistakes!” joke Pelloux and the others.
“Oh, hey! Fidel Castro is dead!” thunders Luz, sticking up his middle fingers upon discovering the news (which would quickly be disproven) on his cellphone. Reporter Laurent Leger tries to refocus the debate on the newspaper: “I think we shouldn’t do obituaries, we’re not going to do a tribute edition.” The editors debate the content of the newspaper. Biard: “I hope that people stop calling us secular fundamentalists, that they stop saying ‘Yes, but’ to free expression.” Leger: “I think that we can also say that we were very lonely these past few years.” Luz: “This edition also needs to talk about what comes next.” Corinne Rey: “Let’s convey the message that we are alive!” Malka: “And that we’re not leaving out our criticism of religion.”
Charlie Hebdo is a curious newspaper: It doesn’t really have sections but “spaces” allocated for each author, each cartoonist. For the spaces of the deceased, the team decides to find previously unpublished material to print. So, in the edition that will hit newsstands Wednesday, there will be some Charb, some Cabu, some Wolinski, some Honore… During the discussions, there are sobs here and there, like brush fires that light up only to be extinguished in the arms of a neighbour. There are hands grasped and wet eyes.
Malka clears his throat: “Manuel Valls (the French prime minister) just arrived on the premises.” The team sighs, spreads out, chats. Accompanied by Fleur Pellerin, the minister of culture and communication, who sports a “Je suis Charlie” sticker on her chest, and a horde of outside journalists, assistants, and communications people, the prime minister shakes the hands of those present, releasing some news on the ongoing situation in Dammartin-en-Goële – “The two gunmen are in a trap”-before bidding them to be “full of courage.”
Biard ventures to say: “OK, the journalists are gone? The ministers are gone? For Page 16, what are we going to do?” The question is lost in the sound of Coke cans opening, people snacking on pains au chocolat, muffled sobs, police sirens outside. In his corner, Pelloux jokes, “So it’s a real editorial meeting, then, it’s mayhem, we’re really back.”
Liberation’s Isabelle Hanne reported on the meeting and published her piece under a Creative Commons licence, welcoming other publications to reprint her reporting. Slate’s translation of Hanne’s article follows. This article was translated from the French by Abby McIntyre and L V Anderson