Paris’ 150 year-old newspaper kiosk could be considered one of the most “charming” little features of its urban landscape. A nostalgic reminder of simpler and more romantic times, largely unchanged over the years since they first appeared in 1857 during Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. Just like London’s iconic red telephone booth, the Parisian kiosk is regarded as a nice way to preserve some of the city’s history, but no longer quite as “relevant” to modern society. But here’s why that’s just not true– and why in the current political climate, we need them more than ever.
There is a unique law that exists in France which requires all its newspaper kiosks to carry all newspaper titles. As a member of society, when you go to your local kiosk, you’ll see all the headlines, whether they’re from the left or right of political opinion– which is something we’re desperately lacking on the internet. In other words, by law, a Parisian kiosk cannot make the decision to only sell radical news, clickbait and cat videos, for example.
When we scroll our Facebook or Twitter newsfeeds, where the people we’re “friends” with or “following” predominantly think the same way as we do and share similar interests, there’s very little chance of us encountering an article of a differing opinion than our own. That’s just the way the algorithms currently work. Facebook was noticeably criticised for this following the outcome of the last US elections.
But let’s say we don’t get our online news from Facebook shared articles. Don’t we still go directly to the same news sites everyday? Ones that reflect similar values and opinions to our own? It’s so much harder to see the whole spectrum of ideas from behind a computer screen because in actual fact, we end up only seeing what we want to see…
We simply don’t have the same choice that we might find, for example, when we walk up to a newspaper kiosk; its racks filled with headlines from every corner of the spectrum…
Whether or not you’re able to see eye-to-eye with the opposition, is it not important to at least see it? If only to be aware that it exists, and to not shield ourselves from what is being said and thought outside of our bubbles.
(There’s another very good law in France that applies to French television news channels, stating all political candidates must receive the exact same amount of air time throughout the course of an election season, from the littlest-known candidates to the most famous front-runners).
If we always get our news and information from the same online sources, will we ever really be able to get out of comfort zones and better understand the roots of the opposing thought? The fact is, despite content now being so easily shareable and accessible online, we’re still not exposed to the vast majority of news and content.
And that’s why these kiosks and their laws to sell all press, are crucial to modern society. A kioskeur, which cannot express his or her political views through its platform, is probably one the most valuable resources of information for achieving a more balanced society. We just need to use it more!
Despite reports in recent years that the kiosks are in danger of disappearing, it’s only half true. It was announced by the city of Paris that in the next two years, 360 new kiosks will be deployed in the capital, replacing many of the older Haussmanian kiosks still in operation around the city. They’re even going to be given a new design to reflect the times, as revealed on the city hall website, offering more comfortable and modern working conditions for the sellers.
Coffee machines, beverage counters and postboxes will soon be a part of the Parisian’s morning press review. Interactive screens will also be installed on the kiosks’ exteriors for browsing newspaper headlines 24-7.
But not anyone can become a kioskeur and there are many requirements for the job, including having a clean criminal record and extensive previous experience. These requirements are a reflection of the responsibility they have to remain one of society’s most impartial news providers.
Hard-working and unafraid of the low pay, they are held in high regard by their loyal Parisian customers. The news sellers pay a subsidised rent for their kiosks of about 120 euros per month– which is not that expensive, but it’s a tough job, involving drastic schedules to be on site at the crack of dawn for the delivery of all that printed media– representing all opinions, of course.
So I’m off to my local kiosk now to look at some news. Because as we all know, ignorance is not bliss.