Against a backdrop of closing newspaper titles, falling circulation and dwindling advertising revenue, Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano has proven that print can make a profit.
Tired of the lack of media independence in a country where every national newspaper received subsidies from the state, popular journalists Marco Travaglio, Antonio Padellaro and Peter Gomez launched a print newspaper that would be funded solely by subscriptions and advertising. It was a gamble that was to pay off after its very first year. Even before its first edition hit newsstands Il Fatto had raised 3.5 million in advance subscriptions alone, and in the following two years it generated profits of around 6 million euros. In contrast, other, more established national newspapers experienced a downturn in circulation: 2011 saw La Repubblica announce a 4.4% drop in sales, La Stampa 6.3% and L’Unità a significant 18%. Meanwhile, in the same year, Il Fatto reported an 18% rise in the number of copies it sold.
As a result of its apolitical but overtly anti-Berlusconi stance, Il Fatto gained a reputation as the newspaper of choice for Italians dissatisfied with the way in which political news was reported – or ignored- by mainstream publications. Unlike those titles that received funding from the government, Il Fatto was not afraid of doggedly criticising prominent politicians, and was the first paper to break the news of Silvio Berlusconi’s involvement with Karima el-Mahroug (more widely known as Ruby Rubacuori).
However, despite its early and more recent successes, Il Fatto Quotidiano appears to be losing some of its shine. The publication now finds itself accused of having lost its focus after the departure of Berlusconi from the Chigi palace. There is no shortage of Italian news commentators declaring that the paper will struggle to survive now that its principle nemesis is out of office and recent statistics reveal that since Monti came to government, the paper has lost one in four readers. In the first 3 months of 2012 it is estimated that 52,849 copies of the paper were being sold per day, marking a 24% decrease in sales since the same period of the previous year. Furthermore a dent has been made in the profits accumulated by the paper when it first began thanks to the depreciation in value of shares the title bought in Banca Intesa, Unicredit, Monte dei Paschi and Banca di credito cooperativo di Roma.
Worse still, soon the title may no longer be able to state that it does not receive any public financing. This weekend the Libero Quotidiano claimed that in February Giorgio Poidomani, then chairman of the board of Il Fatto, made a request for financial aid to Mario Monti’s government. No comment on the allegation has yet been made by the paper, but if it proves to be true it will likely damage the anti-establishment reputation that first endeared it to readers.
It is also possible that it is not only the paper that has lost its momentum now that Berlusconi is no longer in public office. Readers who saw the paper as the spearhead of anti-Berlusconi activism now find themselves without a cause around which to rally, potentially leading many of them to think that Il Fatto is no longer relevant.
The founders of the paper are refusing to be fazed by the recent change in fortunes. Speaking at a convention for investigative journalism, Peter Gomez revealed that the company expected to see profits fall from six to four million euros in 2012, and reiterated his belief that digital media would never render print obsolete.
Time will tell if Gomez’s optimism is well placed, but if today’s reports about il Cavaliere’s desire to return to politics are true, Il Fatto could be about to find its way again…