The media is the message

The media is the message

Thu 01 Jun 2006 12:00 AM

‘Reading a newspaper in Italy can be quite a unique experience that should be reserved for the bold, the brave and the very brilliant. If you fall somewhat short of that  description, consider these helpful hints for the news hungry:


1. Who needs objectivity?

Many Italian newspapers are openly allied with specific political parties or coalitions. For example, La Padania is the official newspaper of the Northern League Party; L’Unita is a paper of the Left. These political preferences are not limited to the paper’s Editorial Page: the slant permeates everything the paper produces. Objectivity is always an elusive goal in reporting the news but many Italian newspapers don’t even strive for objectivity. The reporting of facts always somehow reflects the political stance of the journal.


Other Italian papers are supposedly independent in their political attitude. They do not openly endorse political candidates or parties. Nonetheless, the editor of one of these, Corriere della Sera, printed in Milan, recently ignited a national controversy when he departed from tradition and endorsed the center-left coalition of Prodi in this year’s national elections. Not surprisingly for Italy, a lot of the discussion about this endorsement did not evaluate the pros and cons of his decision but rather concentrated on that fact that it violated a long-standing tradition.


2. The facts are not first

Italian Newspapers strive for the literary touch and the vocabulary often outstrips that of common usage. A good starting point is to keep a dictionary handy. In a journalism class in the USA, students learn that a news story should start by answering the questions: who, what, when, where and how. Generally speaking, journalism in Italy deviates from this principle. Reporting in Italy often abandons the dry recitation of facts for a more emotional pose. Elsewhere, a story might commence as follows: ‘Harold Smith murdered his estranged wife, Maria, and her companion, Tom Black, by shooting them as they returned with her two children (ages three and five), to her home at 322 Maple Street after a dinner with friends.’


Here is how this actual story (translated from Italian) was reported in an Italian newspaper. ‘A full-scale ambush to murder the man who had taken his position, first in the heart and now in the life, of his wife. An execution consummated in the streets of the residential quarter of Monteverde in Rome, in front of the eyes of their two young children, ages three and five, as they returned home with the mother accompanied by her lover after a dinner with friends.’


3. Eye on the civetta

The civetta is the daily poster displayed in front of a newsstand that highlights the two or three leading stories of the day. These new pieces tend to be the city’s most prominent local stories, not national or international items. Often the civetta may promise something more exciting or unusual than the actual story provides. Here is one of my favourite summaries from this genre: ‘Scuffle on set of pornographic movie. Businessman recognizes his ex-girlfriend acting in the film. He punches actor while she runs into the street naked.’


For me, such a headline or short summary is counter-productive. I don’t want to read the article and possibly spoil the delightful images aroused thanks to this summary by encountering the (always less exciting) extensive facts of the event itself.


4. Cultural coverage

A positive note. In Italy, the coverage of culture and the Arts is extensive and at a high level. Films, plays, concerts, art exhibitions and so on, all receive ample feature articles and they are not only related to culture in Italy. If, for example, it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of a famous philosopher, readers might be treated to a sophisticated summary of his life and works. In Italy, the distinction between ‘high’ culture and ‘everyday’  culture is blurred. The same section of the newspaper may contain articles about opera or literature as well as popular music and silly films. All this is consistent with the greater emphasis given to culture and the Arts in Italian society. There is one other aspect of Italian life that receives even greater coverage – if you love soccer, Italian newspapers are for you.

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