The editor-in-chief of Italian newspaper supplement of Nova24 in Italy, told the World Editors Forum that the situation in the country, which has the world's second worst decline in newspaper circulations, is "tragic, but not serious".
Luca De Biase was speaking in a session on what content print newspapers should focus on to survive and thrive. Addressing the conference after hearing positive outlooks from previous speakers, he said the best news he had heard was that in Austria 73 per cent of the adult population read newspapers.
"The Italian situation is tragic, but not serious. We have a weird policy and weird people on top, but the tragic thing is we elected them and we know about them through a particular news system.
"In Italy at the beginning of the millenium there were six million copies of newspapers sold to a population of 60 million and now there are less than five million. So it's not good news. Italy is second only to the US in terms of this loss."
"... The weird kind of situation in our political system ... is also leading to a strange situation in the news sector."
He also said that around a third of the population is considered "functionaly iliterate".
The key to success for newspapers, based on the public's need for facts about the situation in the country, appears to be a "back to basics" approach, he said.
Citing the example of another Italian title, Il Fatto, Biase said it has seen "incredible success".
"The best news that comes from Italy in the newspaper business is Il Fatto. It has a very basic design, but they give all the facts about trials, political accusations etc.
"In one year and a half it has had incredible success. Not only because they have big circulation but because they have a very basic cost structure, so in one year they already created €4 million in profits, which is incredible in the industry in Italy.
"So it would seem that the recipe is back to basic. Give the facts and they will buy."
He said that following losses in sold copies, II Sole 24 Ore decided to return to being a strictly financial and economic paper, and since doing so circulation has risen.
"It is not exactly correct that back to basics is the thing to do. The main thing we need to do is to go and give facts that other newspapers don't give."
He added that newspapers also need to recognise the changing environment in light of digital technologies and where newspapers stand in the industry.
"The six, or now 4.8 million copies we sell as a newspaper industry are to be understood in the context of what is happening.
"... We all know that we used to live in world in which we choose what to publish in the newspaper and scarcity was the space of the newspaper. So in a market who owns scarcity is the winner. We used to win when scarecty was space in the newspaer.
"Now there is no more space scarcity. You do it online. Scarcity now is not on the supply side it's on the demand side. The real scarcity is of time, attention, trust, conversation with others, our peers. That is scarce.
"In Italy 60 per cent of articles that are retweeted or linked to are from newspapers. This is something we need to think about it. We are no longer in the centre of it. We are no longer looking for a defensive strategy against digital, of course.
"We are on paper a different display in a set of displays that are possibly used by our readers. The paper display has some big strengths."
Despite this he later suggested that the tendency to be influenced by what is circulating on social media should be resisted, and the journalist must continue to use their own news sense.
He concluded: "It is not back to basics. It is forward to basics".
Biase also discusses his points on the "tragic" situation in Italy facing the newspaper industry on his blog at this link.
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