Podcast “Série Noires à la Une”: how the press writes about crime

Why do some crimes turn into business? Often, they captivate and become the monstrous reflections of their times: Jack the Ripper is that of Victorian England, Andreas Baader that of West Germany of the 1970s.

But, sometimes, it is difficult to grasp the emotion that they could have provoked in their contemporaries. How to understand the fear aroused by Jules Bonnot in France in 1910, when we no longer know anything about the fear of libertarian terrorism? To elucidate the way in which these events punctuated, even upset their time, the podcastSéries Noires à la Une ”seeks the answer from the best specialists and in the press archives, because it is this which gave the news its letters of nobility.

A first episode on the case of Germaine Berton, the twenty-year-old killer

The latest creation of Retronews, the site bringing together the BNF’s newspaper collections, the program’s layout is simple: a host and two guests. At the presentation, Thomas Baumgartner: passed by France Culture and creator of the Wave audio podcast platform, he knows the exercise well. The tone also recalls the great hours of La Fabrique de l’Histoire on France Culture (broadcast from 1999 to 2019), of which he was a regular contributor.

The first episode, already available, is devoted to the case of Germaine Berton, this young anarchist of 20 years who had assassinated a leader of the French Action in 1923, for “Avenge Jaurès”. Part of public opinion demanded clemency, the other demanded his head.

Reading an excerpt from Little Parisian at the start of the program, then a leading opinion journal, takes us back into context. The journalist, describing the attitude of the young woman at her trial, says less about the accused than about the press of this period. The tone of the article is bombastic, moralizing. The fierce competition between headlines encourages this opinion journalism, where the form of the story is more important than the content. It’s not the crime that does the trick, it’s the media narrative.

Fears and fantasies from another time

The historical angle of “Séries Noires à la Une” brings another perspective on the media treatment of news items. He does not like morbid curiosity, which is sometimes criticized in shows of the genre, but he gives the keys to understanding the fantasies and social fears of another time. It is less a question of immersions than of analysis, the tone is more like a history lesson than a legal chronicle.

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The second episode will be released in February and will be devoted to the Apaches, the thugs who terrorized Paris during the Belle Époque. The following one on March 18, for the 150 years of the Commune, will evoke the construction of the criminal story of this insurrection by the Versailles titles.


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