What does it mean to be a reporter today in Italy (which, according to Reporter Without Borders, is in … 43th place in the freedom in press world ranking)?
Where is the profession going, for better or for worse?
To find this out, we converse of the most desired job – and reviled, still at many latitudes – with Andrea Garibaldi, a retired Italian chronicler who founded Profession Reporter.
The webzine publishes stories from the professional world and beyond. The not for profit with the same name helps to improve the work conditions.
Among the most recent stories, the Barbara d’Amico’s one – a journalist for the main Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera where she was editor of professions issues and working conditions – certainly made a lot of noise, because she was so brave to quit the job being paid too little (less than 15 euro per article).
And that of Valerio Lo Muzio, a video reporter who will soon be interviewed on these pages: recently the name of this freelance without protection and without lavish assignments has rebounded on the Italian chronicles and beyond for being heavily threatened (he is in good company!) by the ex-Minister of the Interior and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (the head of a racist and xenophobic party, he has not lacked dubious criminal and far-right peers since his political beginnings) when he realized perhaps the scoop of the year: the son of the said Minister ran freely on the Police jet-skies at the sea during a vacation with the well-known father (a ‘privilege’ that other citizens cannot have because it is forbidden as well as meaningless: if you want to surf the waves with a jet-ski, rent it and don’t ask a policeman paid by taxpayers to drive you around) …
Your life in a few lines, Andrea Garibaldi, before starting to talk about Profession Reporter
I started being a very young journalist writing about sports in specialized magazines because I played tennis.
I worked as a precarious journalist at Avanti! (a newspaper, born as house-organ of the Italian Socialist Party in 1896), then 20 years at the Messaggero dealing with news from Rome and as an envoy.
I was then called at Corriere della Sera as head of the Rome news editorial board in 1998: I worked there for 17 years, after the news section I was special correspondent also dealing with politics. Now I am retired.
With some colleagues, in particular Vittorio Roidi who was also at Messaggero for many years (editor in chief) and then President of the Federation of the Press and of the Order of Journalists (Italy is one of the countries that regulates the profession of journalist like doctors, lawyers, architects: you need to be enrolled in a register and in a specific pension fund) we founded the Professione Reporter website (which is also an association).
Before going on to talk about Profession Reporter, I wanted to ask you a comment on the Italian position (improved by three but still unsuitable for a democracy) in the report on press freedom drawn up as every year by Reporters Without Borders. It is an independent investigation compiled thanks to surveys and questionnaires. It talks about ‘macro’ issues and not others – much more pressing but little analyzed – like the concentration of the properties of the outlets …
We are in a position that is not well suited to the ‘bright’ cultural traditions that have belonged to us … For centuries!
What do you think about it? Does this merciless photograph of the Italian information system disturb you little or less or more than all the things you deal with?
I would love to know how they actually make this report. I, the freedom of the press in Italy, would link it specifically to newspaper ownership. This does not mean that we have less to improve (we have too many journalists under threat and under escort today. Especially in the South. And there have been many victims in Italy over the years).
Although these are so alarming phenomena, the (vast) problem of the concentration and type of Italian ownership of the media arises with journalism itself in our country.
In addition to the concentration in a few hands, the owners of newspapers in Italy were and are great entrepreneurs, see the Agnelli family (and the current heirs of the family continue to get more and more medias: the latest acquisition in chronological order was that of the GEDI group, the progressive area with the properties of La Repubblica and La Stampa are now in one hand), then the Caltagirone and again the De Benedetti … or individual businessmen out of this sector.
These are a limited group of people who have other interests, it has always been said. Italy does not have the so-called pure publishers who make newspapers as their main business. Here they do it as a secondary business and usually do it to reinforce their main one, that’s the problem.
As a journalist you already know that if you work for Caltagirone you cannot talk about some things, if you work for Agnelli of others … there is always a limit.
If you stop at the front pages of the Italian newspapers it seem to be all the same …
This is yet another problem, it doesn’t directly affect publishers who have different interests anyway. The newspapers are more alike for a kind of conformism of the directors. In certain eras but still today, there is an evening phone call between the central editorial offices, which discuss what is on the front page and approve each other.
Then there is an underlying philosophy that makes Italian newspapers all similar to each other: the fact of dealing with (only) a lot of Italian politics. Not as a producer of transformation of society, but an undergrowth of alliances, skirmishes, tactics….
The worst of the Palazzo, wanting to paraphrase a column of an old satirical weekly I’d never forgotten (Cuore) and that made a certain history in reading diets with its blue-greenish pages …
Eh, let’s say it: journalists often talk about the politics that affects the ‘palazzo’ and not the citizens. The readers. This is the underlying flaw of Italian journalism, which dates back to the previous century.
Professione Reporter does many things, one that seems to me to defend this job very well is ‘to separate the wheat from the chaff’. For example, when you say ‘a good journalist is the one who does not turn his back on people but is at the service of people’.
To defend the profession currently the least paid and most reviled in Italy, you list the good qualities of this type of professional.
You are against all those who do not respect the rules and often you also talk about the malfunctions taking place (up to push the robot journalists who appeared in some Chinese newsrooms ..). The threats to this work seem to come from within the category itself and are not only from the underpaid or from the Mafia …
Without a doubt the threats that come from bad journalism are very very dangerous.
We made this site to defend journalism, to say that it is not dead and that it has a fundamental function for the defense of any democracy. To do this it must be good, it turns its gaze on the readers and not on the Palace, as told. A journalism outside the logic of favors and disadvantages, which only looks at what readers are interested in.
Then there are a series of ethical attentions that are very dear to us and we always try to instill: avoiding sensationalism, respecting people. In this regard, lastly we talked about a story that caused a sensation in Italy (the investment of two teenagers in Rome by a young man in his twenties) also for the way it was told. We do not rush to publish the photos of the victims, we respect the pain of families! We do not try at all costs the scoop, we only try to tell how things went, also to avoid repeating them – always attentive to the protagonists of the events.
This does not always happen, indeed now it happens very rarely. And often any actual account of the facts would not surpass any careful checking plus there is a tendency to be partizans.
The task of a good journalist is to simply dig into the facts to try to reach the truth that is never reached but the goal is to get as close as possible, day after day.
It is also written in the constitutive law of the Order.
Often, however, the Orders of Journalists do not sanction all the illegal behavior of its members …
This would be a very long conversation: many question it and often say that in other countries it does not exist therefore it is not needed by us either. We believe that the Order is important, it holds professional ethics and should enforce it. It is also a guarantee to readers. So we are in favor of its conservation, if it did not exist, that is, everyone can be a journalist without applying any rules.
In truth, the Order often imposes sanctions on journalists who hurt their work but the pronouncements are not public and therefore the readers do not know it: we think instead they should be made public.
In our opinion, those journalists (especially on radio and TV) who advertise are not sufficiently punished as well as the sensationalist or misleading headlines that come out in the newspapers every morning and many other improper behaviors that we talked about before.
The other problem that concerns the Order is the fact of being cast in the twentieth century, the last century.
Today journalism has supersonically changed and will still change at the same speed but the Order remains there, equal to itself as a monolith.
I certainly do not hope that it can keep up with the times, but that at least I hope there is someone among his officials who realizes that there are journalists paid 3 euros a piece, that there are social networks that are changing everything together with unrecognized online newspapers … If the Order cannot stay immersed in these transformations, it will be the Order of retired journalists or those who still write with a quill pen …
You have recently dealt as webzine (which provides information, while the Association is pressing for the improvement of the profession) of some stories that reveal both facts and what it really means to work in this field today in a clear way also to whom has never dealt with this topic.
About the story of the freelance video-journalist, Valerio Lo Muzio, one of the last threatened by Salvini: in that article you have above all told how a freelance must earn a living today, investing in his own equipment and earning if it is okay 50 euros a piece (not even knowing when paid).
The story of Barbara d’Amico, ex Corriere della Sera, was extraordinary, too …
The article about her – which we have taken from a very long post of her – totaled more visits since last June (the foundation date of our website). It collected 16,000 contacts and in that week the site was read 25,000 times in total. I specify the metrics to tell you how sensitive this topic is and how much then we relate to what we said before, how far the Order is behind.
This is evidently the theme today. All those who still want to be journalists with great determination (and are young) are faced with this problem. When I was young and I started the profession, the journalist was a respected professional gentleman, also cloaked in a certain social prestige …. Today not only is there no social prestige because in this widely described scale of values his/her profile is very decayed but it is also a proletarianized job.
Those who want to do it are forced to deal with starvation wages. Editors earn less than other underpaid workers who, with all due respect, do not have such high entry and continuous learning costs.
Have you surveyed the wages of freelancers in other countries and the situation of the profession in other places where there are no Orders? You also have a column entitled ‘From the World’ …
We have not done a systematic work on this yet and it would be very interesting to do it (thanks for the idea!). There are very different situations in various countries and sometimes we follow some of them.
We have recently published a piece from England where a non profit like us is concerned with finding logistical accommodation for editorial interns, who are hosted by older journalists as they do not have the opportunity to support themselves.
If they have found this trick to support them, it makes me think that there are problems in England too … I think the situation is not so different all over the world, we have two or three overseas colleagues who are part of our group and especially dealing with the Anglo-Saxon countries.
A talent you have, the one you miss
I don’t know, maybe a talent that I think I have is to be a person who tries to study before saying or writing. It comes naturally to me also not to be partizan and I always take into account everyone’s reasons.
A talent that I don’t have, I don’t know … maybe I’m not excessively bright, oh perhaps excessively it is not the right word to put with brilliant, let’s say that sometimes I prefer to be moderate rather than brilliant …
Given that your city is Rome, what do you think of giving and receiving in return, even if at this moment the capital of Italy is reviled everywhere …
You ask me a question which is my daily concern. I go out every morning and I feel like crying. I have been reporting for a lifetime and I have dealt a lot with the city: seeing it reduced in this way is atrocious even though I know that the administrative responsibilities are not all of the current mayor. All this also stems from the neglect of the past …indeed nowadays the previous mayors raise their fingers and say ‘ah when I was there …’. The collection of waste, to cite an example of what is wrong, is now paralyzed: this is because the problem has never been addressed.
What do I think I have from Rome? Wonderful mornings when there is the sun and the blue sky but it is not a subjective merit …
What am I going to give? Instead of making a site on journalism I would have liked to have made – if I had the strength and someone to help me – a site on Rome. Every morning, when I go around limiting myself without exaggerating to my neighborhood, I see at least ten news from a journalistic point of view … I would like a site on Rome not on the style of RomaFaSchifo but to the extent that you tell how things are going with the sake to try to improve them.
What am I going to give? Nothing, but I’d like to give a lot.
What do you wish for Professione Reporter in ten years? That your commitment is no longer needed because things are better or …?
The truth is that Professione Reporter counts on minimal forces, perhaps it doesn’t seem if you read it. I wish there were more people who believe in what we do, who give us news and who come to help us. That it develops and that it becomes even a small business, I don’t believe in voluntaristic things. I hope we will find the key to making it more professional.
But what did you learn from life even away from the profession?
A thousand points question (he laughs)! Maybe what I said before: that you have to listen to people and everyone has their own reasons. You should never be presumptuous and be on the right side. Other beings must be understood, the great wealth we have comes from others.