Fanpage: the Italian site that went from gossip to award-winning scoops | Italy
IIt was 7.55 a.m. one day in February 2018 when members of an elite squad of Italian police raided the Naples office of a small news site. The day before, he had exposed links between elected politicians and groups organized in an illegal garbage dump racketeering, and his staff already at their desks watched in disbelief as officers rummaged through their files.
The story sent shockwaves through the political establishment and helped make fanpage.it what it is today: one of Italy’s most popular news sites.
“That day was a turning point,” said Sacha Biazzo, the journalist behind the investigation, who, with a hidden camera and the support of a former mobster, filmed meetings between members of the the Neapolitan mafia and politicians.
“Since then, people have realized that we are not just a small online news and gossip medium. They began to see us as an investigative site that could touch the heart of political power. Readers started delivering pizzas to our office in gratitude for what we had done. “
Almost four years later, and now with 67 journalists and editors, Fanpage has become a thorn in the side of politicians, Mafiosi and common criminals, and receives 3 million unique visitors per day.
When it was created in the early 2000s, the outlook was completely different. “In the beginning, Fanpage was just a Facebook page with general information and videos on a range of topics,” said Francesco Cancellato, its editor.
“Over time, the editor realized that we could aspire to do something different, so he started hiring journalists to write the first stories. From a Facebook page, Fanpage has grown into a medium with few opinion pieces and a lot of news ranging from gossip to crime. Then we opened an investigation team […] our aim was to bring new leads to the attention of authorities responsible for investigating corruption and crime.
Nicknamed Backstair, Fanpage’s investigative team is made up of undercover journalists with hidden cameras whose missions can last up to two years. Its stated aim is “to reach the highest levels of power without succumbing to vertigo” and “to probe the depths of the darkest recesses of society … to film everything, to verify everything and to make known the truth”.
In the digital age that has presented challenges to some traditional models of journalism, Fanpage is breaking down some of the biggest scandals involving the church, politicians, businessmen and criminals.
In 2017, a Fanpage journalist posing as a seminarian recorded an account of an elderly priest reporting the sexual abuse of dozens of hearing impaired people at an institute in Verona.
In October, a series of video inquiries into the relations between right-wing political parties and neofascist movements, including alleged financial contributions, received the European Prize for Investigative and Judicial Journalism, and led an MEP from the far-right party of the Brothers of Italy to be placed under investigation by the Milan prosecutor’s office. The MEP said in a suspended statement from the party that he had never received illegal funding and had no racist, anti-Semitic or extremist views.
Corrado Formigli, a television host who broadcast the investigation into his PiazzaPulita A talk show on the La7 television channel, said Fanpage’s strength was its long-term commitment to stories. “He created an investigative team capable of working on a project for months or even years, which is very difficult today given that newspapers and television are often forced to deal with the news,” did he declare. “Behind Fanpage’s use of hidden cameras, there is a deep and painstaking work that involves creating a false identity for the undercover journalist and a patient approach to sources. The end result is amazing and it works really well.
Over the past four years, dozens of people involved in illicit activity have been arrested after Fanpage investigations, and many politicians have resigned. The site continues to generate profits and has opened newsrooms in Rome and Milan.
What makes Fanpage even more remarkable is its origins in southern Italy. It was founded in Naples, the largest city in one of the most disadvantaged regions in Europe, plagued by high unemployment and persistent social and economic challenges.
“From Naples Fanpage not only reported on the problems of the south, it also hired many young southern Italians, many of whom have struggled to find jobs in Italian mainstream journalism,” said Adriano Biondi , who started at Fanpage as an intern and is now its associate editor.
“The south, and Naples in particular, are among the most culturally fertile regions in Europe. There is a huge untapped resource in terms of human capital, especially among women. If we consider education, women have higher levels than men in Italy, yet Italian women have some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.
The majority of Fanpage journalists and editors are under the age of 30. The oldest is 44 years old. Most unique visitors to Fanpage are in their 20s. Fanpage’s success is based not only on hiring young people, but also on its ability to talk to them.
From the start, he invested a lot in his social media profile. Its YouTube community is equivalent to that of La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera combined, and it is also the only Italian news site with over 500,000 TikTok subscribers.
“Fanpage’s credit is for reaching out to this vast population of disillusioned young readers who did not follow the established dailies because they did not intend to read the daily news,” said Anna Girardi, 27, deputy political editor. “We knew that if we wanted to include them, we had to speak their language. Covering political or financial matters means being aware that there are readers who may never have heard some of the technical terminology.
Cancellato said: “Our main concern is never to get old. We must not make the mistake of growing old with our readers. We do not intend to take over La Repubblica or Corriere. We are Fanpage, we are something else, and our desire is to change the way news is made in Italy.