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decolonizing narrative
October 27, 2023

To produce, demand, and support Good Information means caring for our Democracy

Insight by Chiara Pedrocchi

"A foreigner massacred and killed with a crutch", "Women and trans people", "The Holocaust of the Gypsies", "The veil that's fashionable here and harmful in Iran", "Muslims will pay rent": these are just a few examples of discriminatory and misleading headlines used by Italian newspapers and other media outlets to portray "the other", perpetuating a stereotypical narrative of people and communities that build walls and polarize public opinion. Sara Lemlem, the founder of Dotz.Media, an editorial team consisting of individuals with immigrant backgrounds, explained this during the event “Media, protezione dei diritti umani e nuove narrazioni per un giornalismo di interesse pubblico” ("Media, protection of human rights and new narratives for public interest journalism), which took place on September 25, 2023, at the University of Milan and was organized by Voice Over Foundation in collaboration with UniLibera. The event, part of the "Decolonizing Narrative" series, aimed to analyze the state of journalism in Italy and bring participants closer to high-quality journalism capable of ethically narrating the complexities of this era.

What does public interest journalism mean?

"Public interest journalism is journalism that tells the stories that serve to protect the rule of law and democracy," says Sabika Shah Povia, an independent journalist and the event's moderator. The concept of public interest journalism serves as the common thread throughout all the discussions. However, defining it requires a shared vision of the concept of "public interest" since definitions are often varied and complementary. Sara Lemlem argues that the concept of public interest can be exclusionary because it caters to a narrow audience. On the other hand, Arianna Poletti, an independent journalist and co-founder of FADA Collective, defines public interest journalism as that which is done for the benefit of citizens and, therefore, the entire community.

Elena Ciccarello, the editor of lavialibera magazine, finds a common denominator: "Providing good information means participating in the care of our democracy by sharing information, knowledge, and insights that are essential for the right of citizens to be informed." According to Ciccarello, this kind of journalism should also be rooted in local communities, in close contact and collaboration with local newspapers and communities.

In reality, the journalism considered "mainstream" in Italy, to which most people are accustomed, does not meet the needs of communities and excludes a large portion of social groups from the narrative. Moreover, most media outlets today forgo in-depth reporting, investigations, and what should be the primary role of journalism: being the watchdog of democracy. The reasons are numerous: lack of transparency in media ownership, commercial influence and owner interference in editorial content, media consolidation are some of the elements that threaten media pluralism in Italy, as highlighted in the 2022 Media Freedom Report.

According to Lorenzo Bagnoli, co-director of Irpi Media, what is needed today is a healthier information ecosystem, free from competition between mainstream and independent journalism but where the former forms the foundation for the latter. It should also have a methodology based on investigative hypotheses, verified sources, fact-checking, and care.

New media: new thoughts, different words

But what is this independent journalism that should complement mainstream journalism? Apart from well-known newspapers and television news, there is a galaxy of new independent media. An example is Scomodo, the largest under-30 editorial team in Italy, which offers in-depth journalism without losing sight of mainstream outlets. They dedicate a critical weekly review called "Parallasse" to mainstream media. Their motto is: "There is still a need for pages to be written." This is a political manifesto launched in a historical moment when newspaper pages are increasingly filled with advertising and sponsored content, often written almost exclusively by privileged individuals.

Sara Lemlem emphasizes this point, starting with Francesco Guidotti and Angelo Boccato's article "Male, White, and Elderly Editorial Boards" (“Redazioni di maschi bianchi e anziani”). "It's difficult to talk about the lack of diversity in Italian media because we lack data. The only association that collects data on the topic is the Carta di Roma. It's very difficult to calculate how many people with immigrant backgrounds are inside the newsrooms." This absence leads to biased and racist narratives. Examples include Black bodies portrayed and narrated in a violent manner, Africa represented only as a continent inhabited by malnourished Black children and plagued by conflicts.

These images and narratives foster the creation of an imaginary and, therefore, a false and distorted reality. To improve the quality of information, it's necessary to leave room for self-narration and train ourselves to deconstruct biases and deeply ingrained beliefs. In addition to deconstructing these narratives, the media should also start telling the various forms of marginalization: isolated, marginal, and peripheral areas, the last ones, shantytowns scattered throughout Italy, the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable and homeless individuals. This is emphasized by Elena Ciccarello, explaining how lavialibera magazine chose the phrase "new thoughts, different words" to underline the need to tell stories with a fresh perspective on the environment, new generations, immigrants, and poverty.

Quality journalism requires funds

In-depth, high-quality public interest journalism requires funding and financial support. Today, most media, including newspapers, TV, or new media born on social platforms, are funded by advertising, sponsors, and publishers, often interfering with the editorial line of the media. For independent journalists, the solution is to apply for grants and secure funding from Europe or international foundations. Arianna Poletti explains how freelance journalists work: by publishing and selling the same article in multiple languages. This condition aptly describes the situation for most freelancers in Italy. Speaking of grants, Lorenzo Bagnoli states, "European grants are an opportunity to start collaborating with media outlets and colleagues from other countries, thus strengthening the network." The theme, in any case, is always about having a community of colleagues to reference in order to enhance and improve the quality of journalism while simultaneously obtaining more funds.

The need and necessity to unite

The lack of space, dignified contracts, job positions, and the precarious nature of the profession have made journalism an hypercompetitive and individualistic environment, generating a widespread sense of loneliness and mental fatigue. For this reason, journalist Alice Facchini, in collaboration with Irpi Media, launched the investigation "The Risks to the Mental Health of Journalists"(“I rischi per la salute mentale dei giornalisti”) to give a voice to independent workers and examine the working conditions of freelancers.

It is the need to move beyond individualism and work with a cooperative outlook that led a group of freelancers to establish FADA Collective in 2020, an informal collective that has now become a social promotion association. In addition to the seven founders, FADA Collective has expanded the group, creating a network of over 50 independent journalists who daily exchange advice, contacts, grant opportunities, job offers, but above all, share experiences, frustrations, and concerns, attempting, to put it grandly, to unionize. "The isolation and competition in which we work today in Italy are frightening," explains Arianna Poletti. "This causes many to choose to give up journalism, accepting compromises or joining unethical editorial realities. In reality, the strength of a network and sharing can help overcome the competition present in Italian journalism today."

A good example of journalism based on collective work is also offered by lavialibera. Through its itinerant editorial team and close collaboration with local journalists, it manages to tell the stories of various territories and marginalized areas that are often overlooked. Additionally, there is the editorial team of Scomodo, located within the social space Spin Time in Rome, which has become a meeting and sharing hub for the entire city. Here, editors meet, along with students and workers who utilize the co-working space provided by the Scomodo editorial team.

In summary, another form of journalism is possible. A journalism that returns to its essence: the method, verification, source cross-referencing, but above all, the care for people. A journalism that serves the interests of citizens and the common good, avoiding the spread of dangerous polarizations, and instead, creating spaces for listening, discussion, and dialogue. Most importantly, it should ask the right questions to those in power, which is the role that journalism should play in oversight.

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