A typical street scene in Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy: locals discussing the day’s news in the newspaper. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Reflections on community — and community journalism from afar

Or…In which the ol’ perfesser finds that journalism in Italy is alive and well…

Isabella’s news stand sells 19 separate newspapers, not including — she is quick to tell us — the political newspapers from the extreme left and right — in Italian, German and French. And maybe English, if you’re lucky. Which we were not.

Isabella’s newstand (that’s Isabella with the ol’ perfesser) features at least 19 separate newspapers.

After two weeks of diving in and out of Isabella’s, we finally lucked out yesterday, finding copies of the NY Times International edition, the London-based Financial Times printed on salmon-colored paper, and the good old TIME magazine. We happily sprang for $12 and spent the pleasant morning at a cappuccino stand poring over the news.

The first two weeks here we had tacitly agreed to limit our intake of news; the TV at our little villa never came on once the entire time. But the ubiquity of European newspapers in daily Italian life made papers impossible to avoid, or ignore. They’re everywhere. And people read ‘em.

Every coffee shop/wine bar/restaurant in town is likely to have two to three papers out on the tables (or, in those old school bamboo newspaper holders) which Italian customers traditionally share, browse, scan and read — and then pass on to the next customer who is trolling for the paper. From Rome and nearby Siena, newspapers dominated the counter tops, along with the pink colored sports papers.

Before we finally found an English language paper, we’d sit there at a coffee shop scanning those Italian newspaper pages, trying to translate the headlines and storylines and guessing by the photograph the story’s content. Given our level of Italian, I suppose we looked rather silly, but it was fun all the same.

 

Amazing printing, daring layouts, quality paper — and there you have a quality reading experience.

Whodda Thunk It ….Newspapers Are Alive and Well in Europe

But beyond story content, I was struck by the obvious health of the European press, by the sheer size and girth of the daily papers.

Papers here are big, thick, colorful, well-printed and well laid-out on high quality paper — and mark my words, FULL of big colorful ads.

A cappuccino, the daily paper, a place in the sun — life is good.

After getting through a 52-page La Nazionale out of Rome, Lynne commented wryly, “Fifty two pages. And not a single mention of Trump. How refreshing.”

Thus, we began joking (albeit darkly) about our Italian media experience as including “Trump-fasting.” And honestly, I can attest that my blood pressure has dropped significantly because of it.

 

So Where’s the Local Press?

Of course, what I’m noticing is the lack of local news.

Sadly, in this little hill town of 15,000 people (including 59 restaurants!) there is no community newspaper to tell us about this weekend’s Olive Festival (a day-long, town-wide event)…no paper to show us photos of the ribbon cutting for the new (and much-needed) pedestrian bridge…no paper to tell us who won the Montepulciano vs. Pienza high school soccer game…no paper to tell us when remodeling will be completed on the town’s only downtown (read: walkable) grocery store.

No paper to provide, in the words of the late great Charles Kuralt, “relentlessly local” coverage of “Monty-P.”

Like Carrboro/Chapel Hill, our little Italian home away from home is a “news desert.”

“Well Jock,” says the good wife. “You’ll just have to retire here and start a paper.”

Oddly without its own community paper, the village hilltown of Montepulciano relies heavily on posters and billboards.

 

 

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