Italy’s Newspapers: Untrusted Sources

I’m now back in Italy, where I’ve written an essay for Time on the sad, sad state of Italy’s newspapers.

Any discussion of what’s wrong with Italian politics eventually leads to the question of what’s wrong with the country’s media. In a nation where the Prime Minister controls the airwaves, only one out of 10 people buys a daily paper, compared with one in five Americans and three in five people in Japan, according to the World Association of Newspapers. Italians, it seems, don’t care to read the news.

But what if the fault doesn’t lie with Italians’ appetite for news? What if the problem is with what’s on the menu?

Read the rest.

Behind the Turn Around at Fiat

This story on the turnaround of the Italian car company Fiat was the cover story in Fortune Magazine. It’s archived below.

May 8, 2007
Behind the turn around at Fiat
Yes, a car company can be fixed. Look at Fiat.

By Stephan Faris

Luca De Meo, head of the Fiat car brand, was given his job after just one interview. It was a hot Turin summer day in 2004, and Sergio Marchionne, the new CEO of the Fiat Group, was prowling the company’s holiday-drained halls. “In Italy the CEO of the Fiat Group is a kind of mythical personage, somewhere between Pope and Prime Minister,” says De Meo, 39. “He knocked on the door and said, ‘What do you do?'”

Fiat was a wreck – it would lose more than $1 billion that year – and Marchionne, just arrived from Switzerland’s SGS, the world’s largest goods-inspection company, was looking for a team to strip it clean and hammer it into shape. De Meo was in charge of the group’s Lancia brand at the time, and during the two hours they talked, he felt as if he were being X-rayed. “Marchionne has a real ability to read people’s psychology,” says De Meo. “Three months later he said, ‘You have to run Fiat.'”

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Ferragamo’s Step

This article on the handover of a family-run fashion business appeared in Fortune and is archived below.

January 22, 2007
Ferragamo’s Step
The family-owned Italian shoe business, now in its third generation, tries on its first outside CEO.

By Stephan Faris

Last summer Wanda Ferragamo ordered a special gift for her 22 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. The fashion-family matriarch took a plastic Weeble, the egg-shaped doll that wobbles but doesn’t fall down, and had it recast as foot-tall artisinal silver statues. Hand-soldered lace curled around 45 bellies. “My Dears,” read the inscribed dedication, “regain your balance and continue straight on the path of principles and moral rectitude shown to you.”

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Sarmi’s Army

This article on Italy’s innovative postal system ran in Fortune. It’s archived below.

June 21, 2006
Sarmi’s Army
Poste Italiane’s CEO and his 150,000 foot soldiers are making money on everything but delivering the mail.

By Stephan Faris

The town of Percile, northeast of Rome, has two groceries, a snack bar, and a tourist booth. Medieval houses climb a hill of overlapping archways and cobblestone footpaths. With only 260 residents, most of them retirees, the town hasn’t attracted a newsstand, much less a supermarket or a bank. But it does have a post office.

For Poste Italiane, outposts like the one in Percile are at once its greatest liability and its greatest asset. Postal companies are by nature spread thin, and the Italian state monopoly is no exception. With 150,000 employees and 14,000 offices, the company says its mail operations lose hundreds of millions of euros a year. But those same offices provide the backbone of a company that offers everything from investment plans to vacuum cleaners.
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Emperor of TV

This story on what the left might do to Silvio Berlusconi’s companies ran in Fortune. It’s archived below.

April 7, 2006
Emperor of TV
Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is fighting for his political life — and the fate of his media empire may hang in the balance.

By Stephan Faris

One evening this winter the Italian talk-show host Enrico Mentana played a clip for his guest, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in which Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni mocked Berlusconi’s five-year reign.

The Prime Minister was clearly irritated by the attacks. But as the show’s director prepared to broadcast Berlusconi’s fidgets and frowns, his media handler intervened. Without asking permission, he climbed onto the set to warn his boss that the cameras would soon be rolling. When they did, Berlusconi was all smiles.

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