“They killed L’Unità.” This was the headline on the front page of L’Unità on July 30, 2014. It was the penultimate day the newspaper was published. Founded in 1924 by Antonio Gramsci, it was for most of the 20th century the voice of the Italian Communist Party and one of the most important newspapers in the country. In July 2014 it sold just about 20,000 copies, and had long been losing money.
On August 2, 2014, La Stampa and Il Secolo XIX, respectively founded in 1867 and 1886, merged into a new publishing company, Italiana Editrice S.p.A.
The list of mergers, downsizing and closures that have characterized the Italian publishing industry in the past few years could be much longer. With readers moving to the Internet and advertisers cutting budgets and partly migrating to the web too, the traditional big players have struggled to adapt their business models to the digital world.
Fanpage.it is one of the few Italian newspapers that were able to counter this negative trend, taking advantage of the digital revolution to develop a new and successful business and editorial model. It was created as a newspaper for Facebook and, thanks to this intuition, Fanpage.it is today the third Italian generalist news website, the first if we limit the analysis to magazines and webzines, and it is the most successful Italian newspaper on Facebook.
It has about fifty reporters, whose average age is thirty, and is opening new local newsrooms. In 2013 it had a balanced budget, while in 2014 it is expected to make profits.
And it is less than 5 years old.
How this newspaper succeeded where others failed or are still struggling?
The answer lies in its slogan, which summarizes the most important factors in this newspaper’s success:
Independent, social, participative
Independent – Fanpage.it has been published in Naples since January 2010 by Ciaopeople, today Ciaopeople Media Group, a digital media group. The founder is Gianluca Cozzolino, 42, Neapolitan. At first, he tried to persuade banks and capital venture investors to finance his project, but nobody wanted to risk money in a newspaper for Facebook. Therefore, Cozzolino did it with his own savings. And here comes the first claim of Fanpage.it slogan: independence.
The newspaper has never received money from the government, unlike many traditional Italian players, and it has no ties with any major political or economic groups. “Being free is a priceless value,” says Fanpage.it Editor in Chief Francesco Piccinini, which requires you “to have the humility to question yourself every day.”
Social – The first version of Fanpage.it was based on several thematic web pages, such as entertainment, travels, cinema, automotive, games, women, music and jobs. There were no real newsroom and daily news coverage. Only in 2011 these pages merged into a single newspaper, which became Ciaopeople’s core business. The newsroom was officially founded in November 2011: that day Fanpage.it began its adventure as a generalist newspaper.
How the homepage of Fanpage.it has changed since 2010
Images source Archive.org
Fanpage.it has two big advantages on his traditional and digital competitors. First, it did not need to transit from a paper-based to a digital-based business model. Fanpage.it was born on the Internet, for the Internet. And this leads to the second, fundamental advantage, which is the reason why Fanpage.it succeeded where other Italian news websites are still struggling, losing hundreds of thousands of euros.
Digitalizing the information is, first and foremost, a cultural process – Francesco Piccinini
As Piccinini explains, most Italian online newspapers have tried to replicate on the Internet the traditional paper format.
“This is an industrial attempt aimed at preserving what already existed at the expense of an unavoidable revolution of the product,” says Piccinini, who adds that “digitizing the information cannot simply be an industrial process. It is, first and foremost, a cultural process that begins with the conceptualization of the newspaper. It is no longer a single product: it is a set of contents, unified under the umbrella of a common narration.”
The idea on which Fanpage.it has been built is that, in the digital era, it is no longer the newspaper to be distributed but each content.
“This is the starting point for a digital newspaper: the distribution,” says Piccinini.
Confirming what he wrote in an article published in July 2014, the journalist says that an online newspaper cannot entrust this process to a single team, but it needs three units or channels, which work together: social, search engine, home. A single content does not have to be suitable for distribution in all three channels. Therefore, journalists have to think of how a content will be spread even before they create it.
“This is not the victory of the algorithm over the man. On the contrary, it is the triumph of human creativity, needed to overcome the algorithm and reach the readers wherever they are,” Piccinini says.
At Fanpage.it, each article is optimized for the platform it will be distributed, and often it is the social media team that modifies an article to improve its chance to get viral.
Within the Internet ecosystem, the newspaper is no longer an island, it is an archipelago that offers much more than news – Francesco Piccinini
Piccinini explains that within the Internet ecosystem, the newspaper is no longer an island, it is an archipelago that offers much more than news. In this archipelago creativity and planning walk arm in arm: the former makes you recognizable among your competitors, while the latter keeps you in the same arena.
For Fanpage.it, this archipelago is made up of a number of bigger and smaller islands. Some of these islands are the social media pages of the newspaper, some others are the companies part of Ciaopeople’s network, which have their own social media pages too.
Facebook and the other social media – As its name exemplifies, since the first day Fanpage.it has chosen Facebook as the main channel of distribution. The newspaper prides itself on having been, in May 2010, the first Italian publishing company to distribute content on this social media.
Fanpage.it is by far the first Italian newspaper on Facebook. It has almost 3 million likes and 300,000 interactions, namely likes, comments and shares, per day. Its thematic pages have over 2,5 million likes, which lift the total number of likes up to about 5,5 million.
This dominion is rooted in its DNA. In 2009, Ciaopeople acquired Nealab, a company specialized in apps for social media, in particular Facebook.
When asked what is the main factor behind Fanpage.it success on Facebook, Piccinini has no doubts: “We have had the first-mover advantage. Our founder’s intuition allowed us to attack a space which was still empty. Then the whole team’s commitment built up this strength, developing our know-how.
Fanpage.it’s numbers on other social media do not mirror its dominant position on Facebook. On Twitter and Google+, indeed, it is far behind Corriere della Sera, la Repubblica, La Stampa and il Fatto Quotidiano.
“Of course we put more efforts on Facebook, since in Italy it is much more important than Twitter or Google +, which are still niches,” says Piccinini.
The Facebook page is updated several times per hours, likewise the Google+ profile. The number of posts is comparable with those of its major competitors. On the contrary, the Twitter account has much fewer feeds than its competitors, usually no more than 40 per day.
Each content is SEO optimized. Consistently with the features of the medium for which they are produced, the posts on Facebook and the tweets have a different structure. On Facebook they try to catch users’ curiosity: they tell you something weird or interesting about the news, without saying everything. And all of them have an accompanying picture.
Here is a recent example:
“A shocking discovery. The police enter a store and what they find in a cupboard is disturbing. ‘A tragedy beyond imagination.’”
The tweets give you the bulk of the news and the link. Here is the tweet about the example above:
“Shocking discovery in Canada, the bodies of 4 infants found in a cabinet”
The posts on Google+ are similar to those on Facebook.
Fanpage.it is also on Instagram. The newspaper uses the online photo and video sharing service with a specific aim: engagement and community building.
“On Instagram we try to work on and with our community. We ask them to share their photos, interact and reinforce the community,” Piccinini says.
At Fanpage.it the whole staff constantly works to improve their use of social media.
The newsroom have an obligation, explains Piccinini: “If they believe in an issue, but they are not able to convey it, they must question themselves before the public. It is too easy to think ‘social media users are not interested in this issue.’”
When asked about potentialities and risks of the massive use of social media by journalists and newspapers, Piccinini answers that “when something is well done has an exponential growth, but you risk to be carried away by the flow.”
Participative – “The fan pages are participative magazines, where the user, or better the fan, becomes the real protagonist (…) the main actor in a process characterized by participation and sharing,” reads a statement released on July 28, 2009 to launch the first fan page, focused on automotive.
Participation has always been a mantra for Fanpage.it. According to Piccinini, that means “listening to our readers, pay attention to what they say. Through the social media, readers can tell us what they think of our job, express their perplexities, give us information we did not know. That implies having a constant and intense dialogue with our readers. That is the way to have a user-based community.”
Newspapers have always done that, until the moment they disconnected themselves from the reality – Francesco Piccinini
Instagram and Facebook are the main tools readers can use to interact with Fanpage.it
Video reportage and photo galleries have always had a special role in Fanpage.it reporting, as the great success of Youmedia demonstrates.
Youmedia is Fanpage.it video journalism platform. It went online in June 2012 and, in less than one year, it reached 30 million visualizations per month. Between June 2012 and March 2014, it has had about 250 million visualizations.
Youmedia is a participative network where users and Fanpage.it journalists can upload their video. Often viewers can decide to get information on the same event from user-generated video and video reportage realized by reporters.
Growing ambitions – Until 2011 Fanpage.it was not registered as a newspaper and was focused on themes like entertainment, music and gossip.
Along with the number of readers, Fanpage.it’s ambitions have grown. The newspaper has expanded its reporting on politics, crime and other “hard” news, and started producing his own investigations. It is currently the only big newspaper with a permanent section, called “Land of Fire,” on the environmental disaster in the Campania region.
In July 2014 Fanpage.it inaugurated its local pages, both on Facebook and on the website: Naples, Rome and Milan. In the short term, the main goal is to consolidate these pages. In the mid and long term, Piccinini is much more ambitious.
“The newspaper of the future is video, mobile and social. In ten years we want to become the first broadcaster in Italy.”
 This analysis combines data from Audiweb, a non-partisan organization that monitors internet audience in Italy, and Similarweb.com, a group of developers, designers, mathematicians, data scientists, researchers and marketers who measure online behavior worldwide. It includes only newspapers and magazines.