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Simone Cosimi: the new generation of Italian journalists

March 2, 2011

As I walk in the Auditorium on a chilly September day, I can’t avoid feeling as if I am anywhere but in Rome. The red brick buildings, the trees, the cafés. Everything seems more European than Italian. And I love it. I love being here, leaning on a column, waiting for a person whom a close friend of mine defines “the new journalist.” Our appointment is in front of one of the cafés, at 12 pm. Simone has two precious hours for me. At 2 pm he must “run to work,” as he says in one of his emails. Fair enough.

I see a young man passing in front of me. Simone? He walks by glancing distractedly, then he turns back and comes closer. “Alessandra?” I smile and shake his hand. “Nice to meet you!”

Simone, a free and easy guy, dressed comfortably yet with attention to minute details, leads me inside the café and treats me to lunch. “You can pay for the coffee,” he tells me after a faint protest of mine. We sit in a quiet corner of the café, close to some big windows overlooking one of the massive mouse-shaped concert halls.

So, here we are. The aspiring would-be journalist and the new journalist. Simone warns me that if he starts talking, he will freewheel for two hours without interruption. But that’s what I want. And that’s what he does. I just require him to start from the beginning. How did he get to where he is now? And why does he represent the new generation of journalists?

Simone recounts that he dreamed of becoming a reporter since he was “a kiddo.” With his nonchalant look, he seems one of those people who shoot quickly to their goals and tend to jump some steps in life, without regret. I am not wrong. He wrote letters to Silvio Berlusconi at the age of 6 and won a journalistic competition at the age of 15. After receiving a cell phone for prize – he recalls –  he started writing for the Tiburno, a local Roman newspaper.

After three years, he moved to the Corriere di Rieti e della Sabina, where he wrote one or two pieces every day, for roughly 200 thousands lire per month (roughly 100 euro). University lessons in the morning, phone calls to the hospitals and the police in the afternoon. “Un bucio di culo non indifferente” he explains with his Roman accent. Fair enough.

After working for Rockit, the reference webzine for Italian independent music, Simone moved to Emergenza.net, the website of an international organization that arranges year-long competitions for emerging music bands all over the world. There, he managed the website, writing reviews of the competing bands, translating articles in three different languages and coordinating contributors. “A crazy thing,” Simone recalls shaking his head with a smile, “and I worked from home in my underpants.”

The type of work Simone did for Emergenza – content production, editorial and newsworthiness selection – was purely journalistic. But one huge little problem existed. The organization’s website was not registered at the Tribunale di Roma. Therefore, for the Ordine dei Giornalisti, the state-approved corporatist National Order of Journalists, Simone’s line of work was not recognizable as a professional journalistic one.

Still heating up now when talking about it, Simone explains to me that, today,  there are many online media jobs, such as those of content manager and web editor, which are not recognized by the Ordine dei Giornalisti because they differ too much from the typical newspaper reporter job. However, as he says, “the old bearded journalist who sits behind his desk, writes his daily article and goes home at the end of the day, doesn’t exist anymore, unless you are thinking of Eugenio Scalfari and few other editorialists.”

Writing is no longer the only type of activity 21st-century journalists do. Multimediality and interactivity allow them to unfold a story through a variety of media: audio, video, photos, text, to name a few. Journalists are no longer restricted to one format, the written article statically printed on one side of a newspaper or a magazine. But the aging Ordine dei Giornalisti, stuck in a 20th-century mentality, fails to understand these professional changes. In the meantime, however, the corporation still claims the right to decide who’s a journalist and who’s not, which website produces information and which doesn’t. This constrictive way of thinking clashes with the openness and the freedom of the Internet.

“This is the real problem,” Simone states without thinking about his cooling sandwich on the table, “the caste must open and become aware that an army of young people, who absolutely do journalistic works and do not just cut and paste news releases, is waiting to be taken into consideration by the old school.” Today in Italy, the population, as well as the Ordine, fails to understand that journalism does not only mean writing. In fact, online editorial contents mainly consist of videos and photo-galleries, other than text. Simone comes back to this point over and over.

“I hate when people ask me: «for whom do you write?»” he explains without finding rest on his chair, as if in front of one of his persecutors, “What the hell does it mean: «for whom do you write»? Writing an article is the last thing to do.” But he’s like a mouse in a trap. The Ordine is not willing to modernize its structure. “The Ordine is slow,” Simone comments, “Press agents have just been recognized by the corporation. I mean, how long have press agents existed? So, just think how long it will take for them to recognize web editors.”

Good point, I think. But the problem is rooted even deeper within the Italian system. Today’s newspaper newsrooms are a “photocopy of thirty years ago,” where fifty and sixty-year-old editors, directors and journalists devalue the potential of the web. “They have another head,” Simone simply explains, “but this head is monolithic. Maybe it’s full of ideas and initiatives, but it lacks concreteness.” Simone is the first one who admits how much he has learned from experienced journalists – “a spasmodic attention to details and to source-checking” – but he has also been fighting his whole life with old chief editors who find themselves directing modern multimedial newsrooms as if managing a print product.

The question arises spontaneously. Why is it? Why do old journalists still control such a rapidly changing market? For Simone, the answer is simple: “generation gap.” According to him, a whole generation of thirty-five-year-old Italians is unprepared to take the lead and succeed those old journalists who should now retire. The “real contemporary tragedy of journalism” lies in this missing generational turnover. Many of these thirty-somethings refused or didn’t care about learning how to use new technologies. So, now, they find themselves “drastically behind,” while young journalists such as him, who’s 26, are considered still too inexperienced to direct a newsroom.

In this hellish scenario, Simone finds a positive aspect. If the in-between generation is often technologically incompetent, this is “an advantage” for younger journalists who are now approaching the saturated market. And here comes one of the fundamental characteristics of the new generation of journalists: mutimediality. Today’s aspiring journalists must easily move among multiple technological platforms and “must quickly understand when someone talks about Dreamweaver, Content Management Systems, XML and HTML.”

Simone identifies a second important characteristic: multitasking. Young journalists will not only write “one article and then go to bed.” They must learn how to manage several activities at the same time. Simone has always carried on two or three jobs at the same time, he says, “on the one hand, because I was paid peanuts and I had to create my own salary; on the other hand, because I get bored if I have nothing to do.” Still today, he lives “one thousand souls,” he admits with a smirk. In the morning, he works from home as a web editor for Excite. In the afternoon, he collaborates with Wired.it and he works in the newsroom of a very specialized cultural magazine, Inside Art, “where they still print the drafts, they correct them with a pen and they write curses on the page margin.”

One of the main problem for the new generation of Italian journalists is finding a stable job. According to Simone, would-be professionals “must always have some distinctive quality, otherwise it’s hard to find job opportunities.” However, even though one has multimedia and multitasking expertise, the situation is anything but bright. Considering that, as of April 2010, 29,5% of young people aged between 15 and 24 were unemployed in Italy, one easily understands why the situation for new journalists, who approach this profession in a critical period, is so difficult.

Simone’s friend Valentina Farinaccio, who arrives in the middle of our talkative lunch to get an espresso, has a much more negative opinion on Italian journalism and on the possibilities that the media job market offers to young people. Unlike Simone, who is lucky enough to have an indeterminate job contract as journalist, Valentina, who works for the Auditorium web radio, exudes that resignation I have often seen when meeting older interns during my work experiences around Rome.

When searching for a position, Valentina feels like she’s begging for a job and she is sick and tired of working for free when she has acquired a certain competence in what she does. In addition to being underpaid, she complains that, very often, she is not paid on time. “It’s not easy,” she admits, hopelessly shaking her head, “and there’s no prospective of getting by.”

When Valentina leaves to go back to work, Simone jokes that she is too tragic and the situation is not as negative as she depicts it. “One must be lucky too,” he states while shrugging his shoulders. But for one “lucky” young journalist, how many others end up doing something else or continuing the profession while struggling to survive?

As Simone departs to go back to his hectic life, I walk alone in front of the modern-looking cafés and bookshops, while thinking about one more characteristic of the new generation of Italian journalists that Simone has forgotten to mention. A deep patience, peppered by an optimistic strength of will.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Rachel Drogba permalink
    March 3, 2011 22:22

    Your writing is certainly quite envigorating. You sure have got a technique of making text alive. Have you thought about professional writing? I’ve been a sort of compensated contributor for around 3 weeks now, and make $500 each and every day writing reviews at my own site, commenting on personal blogs, in addition to writing articles or blog posts. Sign up here if you happen to be interested.

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