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 revealed links between elected politicians and organized groups in an illegal dumping racket, and his staff already at their desks watched in disbelief as agents rummaged through their files.
The story sent shockwaves through the political establishment and helped make fanpage.it what it is today: one of the most popular news sites in Italy.
“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 gangster, filmed meetings between members of the Neapolitan mafia and politicians.
“Since then, people have realized that we are not just a small online news and gossip outlet. They started seeing us as an investigative website that could strike at 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, gangsters and common criminals, and receives 3 million unique visitors daily.
When it was created in the early 2000s, the outlook was completely different. “At first, Fanpage was just a Facebook page with general information and videos on various 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 articles. From a Facebook page, Fanpage has evolved into a medium with few opinionated stories and plenty of news ranging from gossip to crime. Then we opened an investigation team […] our goal was to bring new leads to the attention of authorities investigating corruption and crime.
Nicknamed Back staircase, Fanpage’s investigative team is made up of undercover journalists with hidden cameras whose assignments can last up to two years. Its stated objective 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 a digital age that has presented challenges to some traditional models of journalism, Fanpage breaks through some of the biggest scandals involving the church, politicians, businessmen and criminals.
In 2017, a Fanpage reporter posing as a seminarian recorded a account of sexual abuse by an elderly priest dozens of deaf people in an institute in Verona.
Last October, a series of video investigations into relations between right-wing political parties and neo-fascist movements, including alleged financial contributions, received the award European Prize for Investigative and Forensic Journalismand led to the appointment of an MEP from the far-right Brothers of Italy party placed under investigation by the Milan public prosecutor’s office. The MEP said in a statement suspending himself 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 talk show on TV channel La7, said Fanpage’s strength is its long-term commitment to stories. “He created an investigative team that could work on a project for months or even years, which is very difficult today given that newspapers and television are often forced to deal with current affairs,” did he declare. “Behind Fanpage’s use of hidden cameras is a deep and meticulous job of creating a false identity for the undercover journalist and a patient approach to sources. The end result is extraordinary and it works very well.
Over the past four years, dozens of people involved in illicit activities 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 are its southern Italian origins. It was founded in Naples, the largest city in one of Europe’s most deprived regions, plagued by high unemployment and persistent social and economic challenges.
“From Naples, Fanpage has not only reported on the problems of the south, it has 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. Looking at education, women have higher levels than men in Italy, but Italian women have some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.
The majority of Fanpage journalists and editors are under 30. The oldest is 44 years old. Most of Fanpage’s unique visitors are in their twenties. Fanpage’s success is based not only on hiring young people, but also on its ability to reach them.
Early on, he invested heavily in his social media profile. Its YouTube community equals that of La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera combined, and it’s also the only Italian news site with more than 500,000 TikTok subscribers.
“The merit of Fanpage is that it reached that large group of disillusioned young readers who didn’t follow established dailies because they had no intention of reading the daily news,” said Annalisa Girardi, 27, assistant political editor. “We knew that if we wanted to include them, we had to speak their language. Covering political or financial issues 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 age. We must not make the mistake of growing old with our readers. We have no intention of taking 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.