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An all Italian Order

future-journalismSurviving the jungle of Italian media 

Better the devil you know than the devil you do not know. In this specific case, better the “Ordine” you know.  I know it sounds strange, but trust me, it fits  to what I’m talking about. Many believe that the “Ordine dei Giornalisti” is an all Italian anomaly, but it is not. Whether  we refer to the French “ carte da presse” or to the American shield laws,   being a journalist is, somehow, an institution.

In every country, even those like Germany and Spain, where there is no real legal status of journalists, in reality the laws governing the nature and activity of journalists are driven to specific constraints of autonomy , ethics and the profession.

In the British reality  and even in the United States ( we  usually carry the latter as an example of how to be  journalist without a professional  association) in fact there are specific contractual arrangements between the companies and their journalists involving the dismissal of the employee if the journalist is guilty of admixture between advertising and information, or if he does not guarantee full autonomy and independence at work. In countries where there is the most absolute liberalism, like England,  it is true that there are great scoops and news to write about due to a very strong sense of the journalist as a “guardian of power”, but it is also true that in these same countries (more frequently than elsewhere) are theater big scandals. All of you remember the “News of the Word” issue (Rupert Murdoch docet) , whose journalists – thanks to their excessive love of gossip – were swept away in 2011 by the scandal of illegal wiretapping.

Beppe Severgnini recently wrote that if the “Ordine dei Giornalisti” won’t change, it is likely to disappear. In Italy , the Ordine is divided in two categories, called “Elenco” (list) , one for the professionals and one for the publicists. Being a publicist in Italy means to be a regular writer and journalist without being considered a “professional journalist”  which implies a degree  from the specific University or at least 2 years of payed apprentice  and the pass the mandatory  exam. I am a member of the “Ordine” as a publicist since 2002, but my work was never been different from the professional ones.

So, does still make sense to have the Ordine in Italy? I asked this question to some collegues, and here is what they told me.

Stefano Bellentani, Chief Press Officer of the Municipality of Modena and contributor to various international media,  said “I totally agree with Severgnini.  To be a member of the Ordine, as a professional, is now out of time. The Ordine was born on a time when it was natural to start a in a newspaper and climb the ladder landing a apprenti ceship. Today it’s no longer possible. The crisis of traditional media makes it increasingly difficult to have an employment contract, on the other hand the explosion of new media has expanded the possibility of ‘journalism’. So if  the Ordine wants to keep the value of being its member, you have to take into account the changed  that happened during the past years.” We are the only country to have an Order which regulates the profession, without the guarantees of a trade association. In short, a pure cost for its participants. What are the advantages still be members of it?

According to  Bellentani  “I remember that as a principle (like for doctors!) being a registered member should not protect only the writer but most of all the readers. Let me explain: in the same way in which I address to the doctor as a professional with skills suited to treat my illness,  reading a paper or watchin tv or reading an online news, readers should be guaranteed that those delivering and writing the updates are professionals and not occasional writers. Is it always like this? Unfortunately no. And many capable and talented  writers are not members of the Association. “

Here comes the anomaly. The list of the publicists in Italy is much longer that the professional ones.        We are a country of saints, poets, cooks and … publicists, in fact.

In this regard, Laura Pacelli, a professional journalist for a well-known international publisher, says “The Order of Journalists had more strength and above all, more recognition  15 or 20 years ago. With the publishing crisis and the arrival of non-professional figures, such as blogger, being a journalist has lost some identity.  It’s even more confusing now because the Ordine is releasing its publicist card to even to PRs which job has nothing to do with journalism. Before being a publicist was not that important compared with being a professional one . Now it’s the other way around. This is the other side of the coin.

Bellentani  deep dives saying  “It’s definitely more fun and challenging  being a freelance. Of course the few who are lucky enoughto be offered an exclusive employment contract  would not let it go. “

When I started my adventure as a “ writer wannabe” ( I still am, of course) being part of the  professional list was a big deal. Everyone from my University course wanted to be one of the “pro”. Being a journalist now has become a status symbol now.  Those years spent in the  “Scuola di Giornlismo” and the apprenticeship in the local papers ( that’s how I started) are not valuable as before. “For freelancers and amateurs the card has the merit of giving recognition” adds Laura “it also vows to protect the professional journalist  on the legal-administrative side and offers refresher training courses. As for my experience, well, especially in Italy where there are many professional associations of the most varied (lawyers, doctors, notaries) suits as passe-partout, a badge attesting that I am a real journalist.  As I said before: recognition and therefore respect. And sometimes some discount to events and concerts .

I am part of that generation of publicist who had to work hard for more than two years in a local paper, radio and tv, before to be admitted to the Ordine. Journalism was my big dream.

At 12 years old I wanted to be Christiane Amanpour from CNN. I would officially become  a certified journalist a decade after. What I have learned over the years is that every country has its own peculiarities.

English is ruthless and sometimes squalid, where gossip is served at breakfast and tea time, while in America experience and perseverance are a must have.  In America a freelance writer can make writing his living. What  about in Italy? Well, I did something else in the meanwhile.

But you can still read me, right?

di Maggie A. Romano

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