Il Sole 24 Ore: EU must do something about ‘crisis of information’

Il Sole 24 Ore Deputy Editor-in-Chief Fabio Carducci. [EURACTIV.com]

Il Sole 24 Ore Deputy Editor-in-Chief Fabio Carducci believes that commercial and editorial teams should collaborate more and shared his views on journalistic standards and on re-launching the EU.

Fabio Carducci is deputy editor-in-chief of Il Sole 24 Ore, a business media group which has diversified its activities with events and a business school.

He spoke to EURACTIV founder Christophe Leclercq, as part of the #Media4EU series.

Political journalism is currently facing challenges from social media and radical online media platforms. As a business publication, are new media undermining your business model, your readership and your influence?

This risk exists also for a business newspaper like ours. It is less important because we produce information aimed at a specialised, working audience, so it’s less interesting for social media to steal, if I can say so, information from us and sell it to the general public.

As champions of fact-based journalism, could you summarise why you think journalistic standards in Italy have changed over time?

As you say, fact-based journalism is really our trademark, our brand. In our own school we also promote this kind of journalism, which means that we don’t like to shout with big headlines; we report on what happened in the most factual way. However, I don’t think this is the standard in Italy. The evolution I’m observing is that, in order to sell newspapers, we are often under the pressure of political parties and of the government, it’s no mystery. Many times this ends up with big headlines and with declarations. We prefer facts.

But if you are less “sexy” than others, aren’t you more at risk of not being able to compete with social media websites and of disconnecting with your audience?

Yes, but we try not to be too boring while maintaining factuality.

Could you tell us more about your coverage of Europe and trends connected to it? Is it increasing or decreasing?

I would say that our coverage of Europe is increasing, particularly with regards to the relationship between Brussels and national governments. For instance, at the moment, Italy’s budget for 2017 is under examination in Brussels. That means that we cover almost every day the relationship between Brussels and Rome.

What are the main forms of input from the outside, like agency content, syndication networks, partnerships, opinion pieces, etc., that Il Sole 24 Ore uses? Do you see an increase?

I would say that with agencies we work in the same way as before. We often take news from agencies but we don’t just cut-and-paste them on our newspaper, we work on them in order to give an original article to our readers. We also have the Syndicate Project, which focuses on famous economists, Nobel prizes, ministers and former prime ministers. Through a subscription we have the exclusive rights to their articles in Italy. We publish an average of one or two articles a week, mainly in our op-ed pages. Lastly, the syndication network Italia News is important for us for international topics, like American politics and economics. I don’t see an increase the way we use syndicated articles.

Do you provide articles for this network or do you just syndicate them in?

No I’m quite sure we just take them in. We also have an English online newspaper called Italy24 which covers Italian political and economic news and is sold abroad. The articles are not translated, they are written only for an international audience.

Do you know if it’s a successful business?

Yes but we would like to promote it more in order to widen our audience. This is an investment problem because we have our audience but we are not increasing it.

Il Sole 24 is also diversifying its activities by managing a business school. Is it relevant to the media sphere or does it relate to other types of business courses?

Our business school benefits from the importance of our brand and from our ties with the business world. We also have a journalism course and that’s where the link with the newspaper is strong.

The evolution of the media sector is relatively slow, not only on the journalistic side but also when it comes to management and marketing. How about developing training courses for advertising managers and technology directors?

I think you made an important point. The problem is that in Italy the managerial and the editorial parts of newspapers traditionally don’t interact much, because of the fear of contamination between advertising and news. So we like to think that advertising concerns only management and that the editorial team is something completely separate. I think that’s wrong: I think that the managerial part of an editorial group could help in understanding the reader’s real needs. The two should cooperate more.

Native advertising and establishing long-term partnerships for some specific sections are two examples of cooperation between commercial and editorial, which perhaps otherwise would not exist. Do you use any of these models? 

I should say that I’m not pro sponsored content. We do have one kind of format that comes close in some way to branded content, namely some reports on specific economic sectors, like for instance on furniture. Every month we have one or two editions with about four pages containing this report. We display advertisements in those pages that are strongly related to the topics we are covering, but the articles are written by journalists according to journalistic standards.

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Another form is to have long-term partners. For example, a bank might want to promote their image in agriculture and they could sponsor a special agriculture section for one year and let the journalist handle the content. Would that be appropriate in your case?

I think it can be appropriate only if we set strong rules, because I think that mixing advertisement and news would disappoint many readers. But if the line is clear, it could be a good way to finance the news.

It is surprising how open people are to cooperation and to sponsored content, even among the hard-left publications. Is your view reflective of the media landscape in Italy? Do you think there is a difference between countries?

I think that the main Italian newspapers reflect my view and I would add that on La Repubblica, on the il Corriere della Sera, etc. the line between sponsored content and news is almost always clear. On the internet, on the other hand, things are different. I see lots of sponsored news that are even highlighted as branded content. You won’t see that on our website.

One of the most important takes from the #Media4EU series is that the biggest hurdles are not related to technology and only partially to translation. The biggest problem is really the mindset of people, not only of journalists but also of management. Do you think that it would be useful to develop programs to help change management in the sector?

Yes, definitely. I think it would be useful if the commercial and the management section of a newspaper could face each other in a clear setting, maybe with an institution providing education, long-life learning or skills improvement programmes.

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Should it be done at national level or would new ideas be spread faster on a cross-border basis?

I agree that a cross-border solution would be the right answer.

The European Commission hasn’t really had a strategy for the media sector so far. Programmes that directly subsidised media projects are being phased out. Do you think that the EU should support this kind of projects aimed at developing new skills, at innovation and at cooperation across borders?

I really think so. The recent wave of so-called populist ‘facts’ show that there is a real need for more information, not for less. So I think that an institution like the EU must do something against the crisis of information.

Do you think that EU support to these programs could be seen as interference from Brussels?

No, I think that political or ideological interference from Brussels is not a major concern. If the institutions gave money directly it would be much more risky but if they only provide facilities and courses it would be helpful and very productive.

We are currently in Rome, where in March 2017 the celebrations of the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome will be held. There will also be efforts to re-launch the EU project. What’s your view on that?

I have the impression that the general public sees these  European events like old rites. I think that people want to see real answers from Europe. Some months ago Mr Renzi invited the Ms Merkel and Mr Holland to the island of Ventotene (to discuss the future of Europe after Brexit). I don’t think that this is the right message to re-launch Europe under. Europe must be re-launched on policies, not on happenings.