Italians are more accessible than others – at least according to Florence-based British journalist Rosie Scammell who gave a speech today at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Scammell, who works for English-language digital news publisher The Local, shared her experiences about setting up a foreign news organization in Italy.
Grounded in Sweden for more than 10 years ago, The Local now boasts more than 4,5 million unique visitors each month. Italy is only second to the United States in the number of views. Starting from 2008, the company gradually expanded to eight European countries. After Austria and Denmark, 2013 saw new bureaus open in France, Spain and Italy. According to Scammell, Italy was chosen due to the sizeable English-speaking community – a huge global ingest in comparison to the country’s territory. The Rome bureau opened in June 2013, nearly two years ago.
Launching The Local IT was more challenging than a simple replication of the same model. Scammell discussed the practical aspects of setting up a business in Italy: first, they required help from local experts, so they hired an Italian HR company. Given their preference for English-speaking candidates, recruitment took place on UK job sites and social media.
Two years down the line, The Local IT publish about 10 stories per day. There is a mixture of national and international news including business, health, culture etc. Some are sourced from the global news agency AFP, but a Skype newsroom is also open to The Local’s journalists as the quickest way to share information from anywhere. Editors of different countries also meet in a Google hangout each morning. They discuss the top stories of the day and how to cover them.
Scammell shares that the biggest challenge in Italy has always been the internet connection; according to her, it is the worst and slowest out of most European countries. Blackouts have been common in both the office and journalists’ homes. Another disadvantage is the staff’s lack of experience in the country. After two years, they still cannot compete with correspondents who have been here for decades, and the access to high-profile interviewees can sometimes be uncertain.
Getting statements is another challenge. They normally arrive within 2-3 hours, but with the Italian government, it can take days. Inaccuracies are also quite frequent in Italian press, names, dates, even ages can change in news reporting. It also doesn’t help that Italy is a country of very individual distinct regions – maybe more so than any other country in Europe. Being placed in Rome, it is not easy to do justice to each region.
There are, however, several advantages of working Italy. As everything is managed from Rome, news don’t have to go through Stockholm, which means quicker and more effective news reporting. Scammell recalls publishing an article while still being on the phone with her source.
Publishing 10 stories a day also means there is some room for „smaller” Italian stories. The Local run their social media directly, and even though they are sometimes faced with harsh criticism, they are grateful for the immediate feedback. Users can also come up with their personal stories – foreign press seems more respected and trusted in Italy than local organizations. „Italians debate openly” – Scammell says. – „People are open to conversation on the street – unlike the Germans, for example.”