Carlo De Benedetti, the former owner of La Repubblica, one of Italy’s biggest daily newspapers, is no stranger to a challenge. Now, at the age of 85, the tycoon is about to embark on what might be his biggest one to date – launching a newspaper in the midst of a serious financial slump.
De Benedetti wants the newspaper, due to launch online and in print in mid-September, to be a progressive, independent voice in a market weighed down by political and economic influence. And, as its name – Domani (Tomorrow) – suggests, the focus will be on coverage that looks to the future.
“That doesn’t mean to say that we won’t take into account historical references,” he told the Observer. “This will be a post-Covid 19 newspaper born alongside the hope for the country’s reconstruction.”
The ambitious project, with newspapers struggling with a drop in advertising as a result of the pandemic, will be funded by De Benedetti using €20m of his own money before transferring ownership to a foundation.
“It will be the only Italian newspaper owned by a foundation, and one of the few in Europe, including the Guardian,” he said. “The foundation will secure the absolute independence of the newspaper.”
The newspaper’s success will depend on subscribers – the website will start immediately with a paywall while print version will contain 16 pages. Despite a cluttered market in Italy, De Benedetti believes there is room for a newspaper that focuses on “facts, not chatter”, and which is not owned by someone with outside economic interests or linked to a political party.
De Benedetti, who made his fortune at Olivetti, the electronics group, stepped down as chairman of all his industrial and media companies in 2009. In 2012, he transferred his stake in GEDI, the media group that owns La Repubblica and La Stampa, to his three sons. He tried to regain control last year, after publicly criticising his sons’ management of the business. But his bid was rejected and the group’s ownership went to the Elkann-Agnelli family, owners of Fiat, the car manufacturer, and Juventus football club.
De Benedetti said that changes in newspaper ownership in recent years have left a gap in the market for a liberal, progressive voice: “Today, the scenario of Italian newspapers is characterised by the point of view of the owner, one who has a prevalent economic interest outside of the newspaper – this for me is wrong.”
And he added: “Also in Italy, newspapers are either rightwing or centre, there is no longer a newspaper that reflects the liberal world.”
Seventeen journalists, including a German speaker, have been hired to work at Domani, which will be based in Rome and edited by 35-year-old Stefano Feltri.
The newspaper will be pro-European – De Benedetti said that Italy outside of Europe would be like “a ship lost in the Mediterranean” – and focus on the environment, economics and international affairs.
“Of course, we will write about politics too, but we’re not interested in political brawling or chatter – for years, newspapers have been full of political chat that no longer interests anyone,” De Benedetti said. “This will be a newspaper against inequality, on the side of the weakest in society and critical of all powers – economic and political.”
Domani will also focus more on news and facts, rather than opinion: “There is place for opinion pieces in a newspaper, but they need to be distinct from facts,” he said.
The environment will be among the main issues in the newspaper’s coverage, he added: “My generation has contributed towards ruining the world. I want my final venture to be a contribution towards not repeating the mistakes of the past.”