Four years ago in September, Italian readers found a new newspaper at their local kiosks. Its name: Il Fatto Quotidiano - The Daily Fact. Its the success was immediate and not so unexpected. After just seven months in May 2010 there were 45,000 subscribers by post; the sales in the kiosks counted for 65,000 more copies. Today Il Fatto Quotidiano is distributed in 25,000 of the 38,000 kiosks present in Italy. After just a few months since its foundation the number of daily printed copies was around 150,000. Furthermore, there are almost 10,000 online subscribers who download the daily PDF dedition. Why such a great success in such a short period of time?
Small editorial team and excellent quality
New newspapers in Italy typically start with a large number of employees. Revenues usually come from four sources: subscribers, kiosk sales, advertising and public money. But the entire organization of Il Fatto Quotidiano is comprised of fewer than two dozen people. It’s a tiny editorial team compared to other Italian and European newspapers.
The editorial staff consists of some of the best Italian investigative journalists: Marco Travaglio, Peter Gomez, Marco Lillo and Antonio Padellaro, the executive editor of the paper. At the beginning of 2009 the social capital of Il Fatto Quotidiano started with 600,000 euro, some of it put up by the journalists and some from the publishing house, Chiare Lettere. No major industrial group has invested in this newspaper. Furthermore, Il Fatto Quatidiano decided not to receive any public funds, unlike all other major Italian newspapers.
The Italian Constitution is its only source of inspiration
Il Fatto Quotidiano serves a growing niche of readers and in so doing has attracted a dedicated readership. It makes all possible efforts to provide information free of prejudices and political influences. The decision of Antonio Padellaro, the executive editor of this newspaper, to be inspired just by the Italian constitution has been perceived by the audience as a totally new element in the media landscape. In Rome, this EJC correspondent asked Mr. Padellaro about the independence of his newspaper:
“We do not have owners. Well, the newspaper is owned by its journalists. This fact gives to us a substantial independence. The journalists of Il Fatto Quotidiano are the shareholders and we guarantee with their professionalism the freedom of the newspaper. We are not an ideological newspaper. We made an agreement with our readership. We produce a newspaper that has of course its limits but it is genuine. We will respect this quality because it has been rewarded by the readers.”
Mr. Padellaro continued: “Our independence let us gain in Italy a role of real opposition. Not a preconceived or political opposition but a vision that is against the dominant vision in the media. Our editorial line is based on the Italian Constitution. It may seem rhetoric […] but we put on the suit about the freedom of the press that is made by the article 21 of the Italian Constitution”.
As a refresher, Article 21 states that “All persons have the right to express freely their ideas by word, in writing and by all other means of communication. The press may not be subjected to authorisation or censorship.”
Advertisers have no influence on the editorial line. No public fund is received.
Pressures on Italian journalists to please the political class in general have increased in recent years, making for poor service to the public in terms of information of the relevant facts about the Italian political life. Further, newspapers can be influenced by advertisers: by car manufacturers, banks or telecommunication companies. Their influence is typically visible in a lack of investigation on the behavior of these companies and a weak role of a newspaper as a watchdog.
Il Fatto Quotidiano has less dependence on advertisers as compared to, say, Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica or La Stampa, the three major Italian newspapers. In each of these titles, advertising occupies around 40 percent of the pages. Il Fatto Quotidiano gives 10 percent of its space to advertising. So how can Il Fatto Quotidiano be profitable?
“Let put it frankly: we accept advertising by major industrial groups but our editorial line does not depend on it. If we have the advertising, good, otherwise we move on in any case. We started with a small editorial team and our economic independence is possible thanks to our readers, the sales in the kiosks and the subscribers for the paper and on line edition,” said the vice executive editor, Marco Travaglio during a conference at Università Bocconi in Milan in 2010.
An investigative approach is prominent in the editorial line of Il Fatto Quotidiano. The staff regularly produces journalism based on common sense, smart questions and a watch-dog attitude toward the behavior of politicians and corporations. There is a sense of the right to report, critique and reply. The paper tries to serve as a watchdog in the interest of the readers, taking not just a scandalistic approach but an attempt to protect of the dignity of the citizenship against the abuses of any kind of power and misuse of public funds. The newspaper is written for the readers, which is not an obvious quality. No kind of reverence is extended to the political class.
The online demand for objective information
Marco Travaglio has a video section called “Passaparola” (Word of Mouth) on Beppe Grillo’s blog www.beppegrillo.it which has 175,000 unique daily users. Grillo, the comedian who founded Il Movimento 5 Stelle (The Five Stars Movement), runs one of the most visited news websites in Italy. Travaglio noticed the demand for Italian-language information free from the influence of the country’s political parties. There is interest in news stories based on facts and not on the desire of applauding the political class. Giving visibility to facts often buried on back pages provoked more than 500,000 contacts to many videos of Marco Travaglio. He summarized the processes of Mr. Berlusconi and talked about other current scandals that were missing on the major national media. Il Fatto Quotidiano has its own website with an average of 700,000 unique users each day, or 9 million UUPM (unique users per month – source: Nielsen Sitecensus).
An alternative to television and other newspapers
Only Il Fatto Quotidiano, Libero and Il Giornale open with a front page whose content diverges from that of other national newspapers. Il Fatto Quotidiano is a case study especially peculiar to contemporary Italy. The key element of success has been not to repeat the rundown of last night’s television news when so many dailies do so. Il Fatto Quotidiano rather uses its front to present news not covered on TV in a different order of priority and with more depth.
Filling a void in the Italian media landscape
The state of the press in Italy is not brilliant: journalists in general are under the influence of advertisers and of the owners of the newspapers, most of which are not disinterested publishers. They are usually investors with interests in many other fields. A majority of the media prefer not to put under scrutiny topics that may concern their ownership. When the owner is a major political leader, then the priority of the news is obviously biased and the quality of journalism is compromised on a vast scale, even though the freedom of the Italian press is guaranteed by law.
Il Fatto Quotidiano was founded during a moment of Italian history in which its Parliament produced laws to protect the prime minister from its criminal proceedings and protected his economic interests. So it seems natural for a newspaper whose only source of inspiration is the democratic constitution to find an eager readership.
Today, after three years of its launch, Il Fatto Quotidiano has grown to include an economic section and a cultural insert called Saturno and the number of journalists has increased. In any case, after the initial boom the number of daily sold copies decreased from 75,000 in 2011 to reach the constant readership of 57,000 in 2013. The printed copies are stable at 110,000.
Let’s hope that this success will continue.
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