Commentary. Over 2,000 people donated to our 'io rompo' campaign, challenging head on the government's desire to cripple independent media in Italy. After 50 years of il manifesto, we're primed for 50 more.

Breaking down the wall between us and our readers

The “io rompo” campaign was one of the toughest I’ve ever been involved in. Not that we’re not fans of impossible missions here at il manifesto, but a year ago, when we found ourselves suddenly under threat of extreme cuts planned by Vito Crimi to the pluralism fund (we literally found out on Dec. 30, 2018, about the cuts that were supposed to take effect on New Year’s Eve), there was a real danger of losing hope.

We had to sound the alarm — the freedom of information was at stake — and at the same time rally our audience together to pursue a convincing political objective, something different from the ones that are usually thrown around.

There was no time for lamenting our fate, but the danger was a real deadly threat for us (and still is, because the cuts have not been called off, only postponed for some months). In short, we wanted to show a possible path forward for us from a publishing perspective, which would be authentically “in the il manifesto style” and stand out right away, both in the way we communicated it and in the journalistic result to be achieved at the end of the campaign.

Our encounter with a creative of the stature of Fabio “Ciccio” Ferri was a godsend. His innate optimism helped us focus the campaign’s objectives and keep moving it forward for 250 days, without becoming boring to ourselves or to the public. Indeed, if we think about our usual penury of means and look back on this decision, it was a titanic and frankly mad undertaking.

These are the results: more than 2,230 patrons, over €164,000 collected in digital subscriptions and 50 days of being entirely free to access for everyone during this calendar year. True, the ambitious €1 million target we had set for ourselves remained well out of reach — however, after deducting our expenses, the campaign has guaranteed us an initial budget to build the new digital model of information and community that we have been thinking about for some time.

“Io rompo” has been a highly experimental campaign, for us and for the world of printed media, which is more and more in crisis: we want to make “patrons” of independent information one of our permanent models of support, different from and parallel to subscribers and readers.

This is a community that we must listen to and get to know. The challenge that awaits not only us but all newspapers is to build increasingly authentic relationships with our community. Newspapers are still being used in order to inform ourselves, but they are increasingly playing a role in educating ourselves as well.

We’ve met with a lot of top professionals on this long road. We had the experience of becoming “video gamers” and “breakers” of digital walls. As an aside: of course, I in no way condone all the scare quotes that my companion and friend Fabio Ferri has creatively attributed to me ;-).

We’ve made videos and viral social media campaigns. These are things we haven’t always done in the past, but we are learning to do them together with our partners and creatives. It is a parallel activity to the ones we have been doing and praising for a long time, such as the “one hundred dinners” taking place throughout Italy, where we meet and have conversations with many of you—hundreds and hundreds.

The challenge we are facing is at the same time political, cultural, economic and editorial. A whole universe of questions is calling upon this collective that is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first presence of il manifesto on the newsstands.

Our mainstays are you, our resilient community, even more resilient than ourselves. Everything we will do in the coming months will feature you as the protagonists, and we must learn to work together, to fight, to understand the realities that surround us.

One of the first walls to be demolished in 2020 is the one between our editorial staff and our audience. This relationship cannot be restricted to just letters to the editor or an email address.

Another wall to take down is the one between paper and digital. It’s no longer possible to conceive of any “content” as consisting solely of either pulp or bits: it must circulate both on paper and on the web, under their own respective forms.

These might sound like commonplaces at this point, but they are the hardest things to put into practice for a newspaper like ours.

The first stepping stone will be the 50 days of free access to our website that our “patrons” have gifted to the rest of the world. We will honor this promise and commitment at the right moment, when everything (or almost everything) is ready.

As always, every campaign that ends marks the beginning of the next one to come: the celebration of our 50 years, and that of the next 50 years of il manifesto.

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