The Venetian Banking Earthquake across Italy

The Venetian Banking Earthquake across Italy

Organisation: La Stampa (Italy)

Publication Date: 04/08/2017


Our featured project is a multimedia breaking news story investigating on last spring’s collapse of 2 Italian banks, namely Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza. The crack of the Venetian financial institutions, which threatened to crush the entire Italian banking system, certainly had an impact on the perception of our overall national stability in Europe. Facts: on the night of May 31, 2016, the Veneto Banca Board of Directors decided to nullify the value of its shares in view of the 1 billion capital increase needed to ensure the survival of the institute. This meant that nearly 90,000 shareholders, mostly families and individuals who had invested their savings in a product they considered "safe", found their assets delated overnight. At least 10 billion in savings were permanently lost. It was a truly "democratic" financial disaster involving large and small businessmen, retirees, political and charitable organizations, local artisans and large American banks. Even though our addressed topic might seem rather technical, our audience was quite general since the events affected just about anyone. One of our goals in fact, was to address as many readers as possible by using a clear and direct language: from the small account holder to the largest shareholder, ultimately every one of us could have been affected by this case-history; after all, don’t we all have a bank account? From a journalistic point of view, we started with a fact-finding process and retrieved the list of all 87.502 members of the institute. This investigation was backed up by data-journalism (involving a number of different technologies, see specific answer), which made it possible to extract a series of additional information thanks to the processing of a large amount of data. The decision to use an interactive documentary for the reporting of the data has enabled dozens of local newspapers to benefit from our investigation and report the news and correlated damages within their respective territories. The picture that emerges shows that Veneto Banca, rather than “just” a crisis of a regional bank, is yet another blow to the Italian banking system at national level. A price which all of us will eventually pay. Our innovative project on La Stampa website was rewarded with a great response from other news media, but above all with increased interactions (website visits, email, comments on Facebook) from readers. As far as monetization of the project, our work had been preliminarily discussed with the local offices of Itedi group (La Stampa-Secolo XIX), which afterwards devoted several focus areas on their respective territories.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Ours project stands out for three different reasons: a careful planning, the use of multi-channel broadcasting and the use of open source technology. Thanks to our team’s investigation, La Stampa was the only national newspaper to open the day after the “overnight crack” with this shocking news. The headline chosen was "Veneto Banca shock: 5 billion worth of savings disappeared". An exclusive report fruit of an investigation work done months ahead. The impact of our story was at national level, as we favored among our various media distribution channels a digital and multi-media approach. To readers we presented our investigation both on paper with inquiries, reports and interviews, as well as with a web-documentary characterized by the presence of multimedia maps, infographics and video interviews which allowed digital readers to access a number of data and information unthinkable for the print media. Our innovation was presenting precise results through “Tableau Public," a map that allows readers to seek their own province and find out real-time what was the lost wealth of each municipality. Rewarding was also the choice of using free digital tools and a web documentary format to enable the widest possible spreading of the elaborated data. The impact was significant, La Stampa is the third national newspaper and our headline news was picked up by the main agencies, news websites and TV. In addition, our multimedia documentary had 33,243 unique visitors, with an average time spent of 2 minutes and 3 seconds (the highest figure ever achieved for such a web documentary on La Stampa). Overall visits were over 34,000. What’s striking, above all, is how users interacted with our digital map which had 191,507 views meaning that every user on the platform interacted an average of 5 times with our editorial product in searching which municipalities were mostly affected by the crack, and to which extent amounted the loss.

Technologies used for this project:

A paper document with the list of 87.502 shareholders was scanned with Ocr Abby Fine Reader. With the same program, we proceeded to a first recognition of the table text, we then cleaned up the data with OpenRefine. To calculate the wealth lost by each member, we proceeded to attributing to every share its overall peak value minus the current value. The obtained data were then aggregated according to Italian municipalities (about 8000), provinces, regions and macro-areas. A digital and interactive map of Italy created with Tableau Public showed the data allowing to see at first glance that the loss of wealth had not only affected the Veneto region, home to the bank, but also other and very distant Italian regions (due to the purchase over the years of local banks in other regions of Italy). Through the same tool, we added an internal customized search engine that gave readers the opportunity to check the amount of lost wealth from town to town. The data were made available without any restrictions, even for colleagues from competing newspapers allowing the news to spread quickly on all national news media. Finally, we gathered the best articles from the print media and the website along with the video interviews and digital map and created an interactive documentary shortly after the first article was issued. The choice of providing free tools and platforms has been made to allow maximum speed of execution: investigations and articles have in fact been produced in less than 24 hours after the events.
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