The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

By Cristina Marconi


Today will be remembered as a glorious day for old-school journalism.

Ansa, the main Italian news agency, broke the news that Pope Benedict XVI will step down on February 28th at 8pm thanks to the ability of its reporter to understand Latin.

The experienced Giovanna Chirri, who habitually covers the Vatican, understood without any possible doubt thanks to her solid classic education that the Pope, in his fluent, heavily accented Latin, “well aware of the seriousness of this act” and with “full freedom”, was in fact declaring:

“I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

In short, a Pope was resigning for the first time since the Middle Ages.

The news is quite shocking but, surprisingly enough, is not completely unexpected. In the last couple of years there have been countless reports about Joseph Ratzinger’s willingness to leave. Some cardinals even confirmed on the record the likelihood of such a decision in the future.

Nevertheless only a few, like his brother Georg Ratzinger, knew that the decision was to be announced today. During an apparently ordinary consistory which was meant to approve three canonizations, the Pope said that “due to an advanced age” he feels to be “no longer suited to an exercise of the Petrine ministry”, in particular in “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”

The task needs “both strength of mind and body”, two virtues that the Pope feels he has lost in the last months. During a press conference his spokesperson Father Lombardi ruled out the possibility of a serious illness, even though some sources talk about a possible leukemia, and he confirmed that Benedict XVI will retire in a monastery where he will pray and study. Therefore he will not interfere with his successor’s work.

Only 7 years after the death of John Paul II, in April 2005, the Vatican is preparing to hold another conclave. Once again the international media will be watching Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, and the chimney that will tell whether the new Pope has been appointed (white smoke) or another round of votes is needed (black smoke).

The media landscape has changed enormously since Joseph Ratzinger was elected and all the mistakes that were made at the time of Wojtyla’s death – the inability to recognize whether the smoke was black or white, the interpretations of the door of Saint Peter being open or closed – will surely be amplified by Twitter and other social networks.

Moreover, Ratzinger’s retirement is likely to trigger more taste for intrigue and less emotion that Wojtyla’s death. When the latter died, April 2nd at 9,34 pm, I was in a taxi in Rome and the driver stopped the car after hearing the news. We both went out from the cab, and we found ourselves, me and the taxi-driver, in the middle of a bridge looking at the clear spring sky with hundreds of people doing the same around us. Rome had never been such a holy city, for me at least.

Benedict XVI will not be remembered as the most charismatic among the Popes, notwithstanding his attempts not to be perceived only as a cold German theologist.

He was the first to use Twitter with his ‘Pontifex’ account, for instance, but he never managed to be loved like his predecessor, the Pole Karol Wojtyla. Social networks and journalism in the digital age have been a problem more than an opportunity for the Vatican in the last couple of years: the scandals of paedophilia inside the Church and the corruption scandals as reported by Gianluigi Nuzzi in ‘His Holiness’ have had an unprecedented degree of digital resonance and they need a firm control, one that Benedict XVI could not provide owing to his age and health.

In the book ‘Light of the world’, an interview with the journalist Peter Seewald, Ratzinger basically said that a Pope’s resignation is admissible, but not in times of hardship for the Church.

The storm surrounding the Holy Siege, at least for now, is over. The Pope is therefore free to make his own choice, just like the protagonist of ‘Habemus Papam’, the last, prophetic film by Nanni Moretti, where a man appointed to lead the Church does not feel up to the task, and renounces.

Cristina Marconi is an Italian freelance journalist based in London. She has been working as a correspondent from Brussels for the Italian newswire TMNews, while contributing at the same time for the newspapers Il Messaggero and Il Mattino. She used to write only about economic and financial affairs, but her reporting from the UK has (fortunately) extended also to politics, arts, fashion and culture. She writes a blog in Italias, 

She was a Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute in 2011-12, where she researched whether the eurozone crisis contributed to creating  a ‘European press’,

Her research paper can be downloaded: Does the watchdog bark? The European Union, the Greek debt crisis, and the press

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Obama’s steps on climate change, from silence to action?

By Catalina Arévalo

Caty ArevaloDespite high temperatures, droughts and record wildfires, the 2012 presidential campaign in the US will go down in history as the first, since 1988, that saw no mention of climate change in any of the presidential and vice presidential debates.

However, with millions of Americans still suffering the effects of superstorm Sandy, President Obama broke the climate silence in his victory speech claiming that ‘we want to pass on a country that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet’. The following week he made same references in his first White House press conference, raising expectations among campaigners and the clean energy industry. Will the re-elected president be able to move the climate agenda forward in his second term?

Obama will soon have three opportunities to show where he ranks the issue in his new agenda. The Climate Conference this week in Doha (Qatar) will be the first. The position of the American delegation, headed by the state department climate envoy, Todd Stern, will be scrutinised for signs by activists. They expect that the US continues supporting the goal reached last year in Durban, which includes limiting warming to 2C from pre-industrial times.

The next salient point would be persuading Congress to extend the wind-energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) before it expires at the end of the year. Not extending the PTC, which gives 2.2 cents back to wind developers for every kilowatt-hour generated, would kill thousands of jobs according to the industry, and abolish the immense gains made in this field by the US in the past decade.

A third test will be Obama’s decision about a proposed pipeline, Keystone XL, which would transport oil from Western Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. After putting off the issue during his re-election campaign, the president will have to decide whether to block or approve the project in the first half of next year. The broader climate movement thinks that decision is an important opportunity for Obama to show if climate change is really a personal priority.

U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) speaks in a neighborhood after he tours damage done by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, New Jersey, October 31, 2012. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stands behind Obama. Putting aside partisan differences, Obama and Christie toured storm-stricken parts of New Jersey together on Wednesday, taking in scenes of flooded roads and burning homes in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) speaks in a neighborhood after he tours damage done by Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, New Jersey, October 31, 2012. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stands behind Obama. Putting aside partisan differences, Obama and Christie toured storm-stricken parts of New Jersey together on Wednesday, taking in scenes of flooded roads and burning homes in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. REUTERS/Larry Downing

While we wait for those decisions, there is some cause for cautious optimism. First, opinion polls suggest public concern in the US about climate change was rising even before hurricane Sandy. Secondly, the American companies have begun to see business in investing in clean technologies and renewable energy. A recent report by the Climate Group pointed that clean energy could win 3 trillion for the economy in the US. The study was presented last September in the New York Climate Week, where, surprisingly, there were more businessmen than activists, as in most of the last international climate change events I have recently covered.

Because of Republican dominance in Congress, it would be difficult to see the Senate passing comprehensive climate change legislation. Still, Obama can work on policies that may help cut greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020, and push ahead with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations on emissions from other sectors of the economy, beyond coal power plants introduced so far.

Hurricane Sandy has provided Obama with the best starting point for national conversation about climate risks, and building a bipartisan consensus for action. There are many American companies willing to make the transition to a clean energy economy, which keeps them competitive globally, and grow jobs. No matter what, climate change is a challenge that nobody who aspires to lead the world can afford stay silent about.

Catalina Arévalo is an environmental journalist and author at Agencia EFE in Spain. She was a Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute in 2011-12, where she researched how the coverage of climate change summits has changed.

Her research paper can be downloaded: Climate Change Summits beyond Copenhagen, Who Goes, Who Stays, and How Are They Covered?

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Why Newsweek died – at least in print

By Letícia Sorg

When in 2004 I started working in journalism, as an intern at Veja, the magazine’s ads highlighted the fact that the Brazilian newsweekly was the fourth biggest in the world, circulation-wise – behind America’s Time and Newsweek and Germany’s Der Spiegel. Given the decrease in Der Spiegel’s circulation, Veja took over the third position. And from December 31 – when the last Newsweek print edition will hit the stands – it will be able to claim the second position.

But Veja may not find many reasons to celebrate. It seems that Time (with its 3.2 million copies) and Veja (with its 1.1 million copies) are among the last of an endangered species: the traditional newsweekly magazine.

The extinction process seems to have been on its way for a few years now. Since 1989 Time’s weekly circulation has dropped some 4.4 million copies; Newsweek has stopped printing 4.1 million copies. In 2008, the third biggest American newsweekly, the U.S. News & World Report, decreased its print frequency, eventually becoming digital-only in 2010 and changed its content proposition from general news to rankings of services, from education and law firms to hospitals.

This was the context when I joined the RISJ as a journalist fellow, in October 2009, to study the future of newsweekly magazines in the digital era. Apart from the journalistic interest, there was an obvious question underlying my research: should I start looking for another job? I was on leave of absence from Época, then the second largest Brazilian newsweekly magazine.

The fact that I am now working for a financial newswire does not mean that the answer was “yes”. My research, which counted on readings and several interviews with people within the industry, led me to conclude that the internet is not mercilessly murdering print publications. But it is certainly speeding up the perishing process of the already fragile ones.

This was the case of Newsweek. In the pre-internet 1991, John Tebbel and Mary Ellen Zuckerman expressed their worries about the future of the publication in their book The Magazine in America, 1741-1990: “Of the three [Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report], only Newsweek appeared to be in any financial distress. Its profits dropped to $15.3 million in 1987, with the future uncertain.”

A copy of Newsweek magazine sits on a newsstand in New York October 18, 2012. Newsweek, the venerable U.S. weekly magazine covering current events, will publish its final print edition on Dec. 31 and move to an all-digital format early next year, two top executives said on Thursday. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Founded in 1933 by the former foreign editor of Time Thomas J. C. Martyn, Newsweek was idealized as Time’s antithesis. In the launch prospectus, Martyn proposed a magazine which would be “written in simple, unaffected English [in] a more significant format [with] a fundamentally sober attitude on all matters involving taste and ethics” for those who “feel Time is too inaccurate, too superficial, too flippant and imitative”.

Newsweek’s mission was surpassing Time’s impressive circulation numbers and it succeeded for a brief period in the 60s, some years after the magazine was bought by the Washington Post Company and received new investments. It was its glory – and also its misery. For the rest of Newsweek’s history, the publication struggled to recover that transient success, even experimenting with five editors in ten years.

In the quest for leadership, Newsweek may have taken too much of the competitor’s formula and, lost among changes in command, forgotten the importance of finding its own editorial identity. Both advertising and readership may have been affected by the lack of a long term content strategy.

These conclusions were drawn one month before the Washington Post Co. announced its intention to sell Newsweek, five months before, Sidney Harman, a 92 year-old businessman, acquired the magazine; eight months before it merged with Barry Diller’s IAC and Tina Brown amassed her leadership place in the Daily Beast with Newsweek’s editor-in-chief position; and more than two years before the magazine announced its plan to cease printing.

None of these facts however changed the troubled path Newsweek was following – if anything, they worsened it. When Sidney Harman died, in April 2011, his family retreated from the investment, leaving it to Barry Diller and his mainly digital company. When Tina Brown took over, she decided to make her Daily Beast the website for Newsweek even though had 5 million readers a month – more than twice what The Daily Beast had then – and several journalism awards.

Newsweek’s death in print was hardly a surprise and raises some questions for the publishing industry. The first is how to build a distinct and relevant editorial formula and stay true to it. The second is whether it is possible to have such a marked formula being a weekly magazine covering general news. This question is backed up by the recent success of segmented newsmagazines such as The Economist and New Yorker, compared to Time’s modest results. The third question is: what is the consequence of being the “last man standing” in its field? Will Time benefit from the readers and advertisers Newsweek no longer caters for? Or will it suffer the consequences of being considered the last, perhaps dying member of its species?

In the context of an ever concentrated, shrinking print world, the future of other publications, whether newspapers or other kinds of magazines, is somehow dependent on Time’s future now. And I suspect Brazil’s Veja would have mixed feelings if it had to claim the leading position in this world ranking.

Letícia Sorg is Multimedia Editor at Agência Estado in Brazil. She was a Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute in 2009-10, where she researched how successful media outlets in Europe and the US manage to remove barriers between print and online reporters and to publish quality, yet profitable journalism, both online and in print.

 Her research paper can be downloaded: The Role of Newsmagazines in the 21st Century: The evolution of a journalistic genre and how it can stay relevant in the digital era

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