Interviewing ‘everyone’ about the conclave

I love that biting Leonard Cohen song “Everybody Knows.” It begins:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That’s how it goes, everybody knows

Great poetry. Possibly not the best approach for journalism, though. One Associated Press reporter used this approach for a lede on the Vatican conclave:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican insists that the cardinals participating in the upcoming conclave will vote their conscience, each influenced only by silent prayers and reflection. Everybody knows, however, that power plays, vested interests and Machiavellian maneuvering are all part of the game, and that the horse-trading is already under way.

I kind of want to sing it. But as the Twitter image above shows, really this shows what a remarkable reporter we’re dealing with! How does one even interview “everyone”?

Is the “everybody” all the Cardinals? All billion Catholics in the world? All people in the world? No matter — it’s very impressive. Why everybody knows about how Machiavellian things are!

Anyway, interesting story with tons of speculation. Everybody knows how that works out.

The high cost of waiting for the action in Rome

Friends, Romans and other anxious news consumers, some of you may not have seen the following update from Poynter.org about the current status of one of America’s most skilled scribes on all things inside-Catholic:

During an interview this weekend with Philadelphia Inquirer culture reporter Stephan Salisbury, Vatican blogger Rocco Palmo whipped out his iPad and canceled his flight to Rome.

Palmo had planned to be near the Vatican for the next two weeks of historic doings, but the cost of the trip proved too much. “The hotels!” he exclaims. “The media people going over are getting hosed!”

“People in Rome were calling me up this morning saying, ‘If you don’t come now you’re finished on this beat,” Palmo said in a phone interview with Poynter Sunday night. “It wasn’t out of intimidation but it was out of a concern with me for my work: ‘You’ve worked for this, you’ve earned it to be here.’ ”

However, the patriarch of the popular Whispers in the Loggia site is not in Italy at the moment. I was hoping that some major news network would snatch him up as an expert commentator, but, alas, that has not happened. I emailed Palmo to confirm his current location and he just rang my cell to let me know that he is still in Philadelphia, reporting and writing away — as always.

The question, for Palmo, is whether reporters actually need to be there — other than the obvious fact that television professionals have to be on site to get footage of the white smoke, the first comments from the balcony, the light on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, etc., etc.

Talking to Poynter, he also added:

Palmo also questioned the utility of covering the conclave on the scene: He expects cell phone service to be overwhelmed in St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of the new pope, and he may end up watching the big moment on TV in his room just so he can file.

Indeed, what Palmo keeps referring to as the first “social media conclave” means not just more competition but that he might be able to suss out developments better from home. … The announcement of a new Pope is a story “that lasts three seconds,” Palmo said, adding that “what matters is what happens once he starts hitting the ground.”

I would trust Palmo to know that his key sources will remain in touch with him through the same channels they have used in the past. The man is what he is.

But we are also seeing one of the truths of this digital age lived out in this conclave. There are fewer mainstream sharks in the news ocean, right now, which means that the make-up of the press army in Italy has almost certainly changed. To be blunt, there are fewer veteran Godbeat reporters around and, on top of that, there are fewer from organizations that afford the high cost of staying on the scene.

Which brings us to this sad reality: Opinion is cheap and information is expensive.

You can expect lots and lots of opinion from Rome in the days ahead. Many of the true pros couldn’t make the trip, because the expenses are just too high. The longer this story rolls on (with late arriving cardinals holding up the proceedings), the higher the bills will get.

That leads me to this question: Is there some chance that the Vatican powers that be are rather enjoying making the press cool it? Yes, I know that the Vatican’s leaders are concerned about leaks.

But still, what is the message between the lines in this Washington Post report and others like it?

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Free the cardinals!

Yesterday tmatt asked readers to submit links to papal coverage that was particularly good or bad. I’m going to go ahead and put my responses in a separate post.

It begins, as all our best material does, with a comment thread from last week:

Julia says:

Can’t find it now, but there was an article on MSNBC.com (I think) that said JPII, in the 1990s, changed the ancient conclave rules so that the Cardinals could be let out of the Sistine Chapel now and then to sleep and eat, if necessary. I’m not kidding.

And it said that in the new hotel/residence on the grounds, the Cardinals are locked into their rooms!!! Where do the get this stuff? There are plenty of reliable sources, people and authoritative websites with the basic information.

And then there was this:

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz says:

I couldn’t quite believe what you were saying, Julia, so I went looking — and you were right!It’s the last paragraph. Yikes!

Here it is, and it’s actually from NBC:

The conclave process, in which cardinals are locked into their rooms until reaching a decision, was a tradition that began in 1271 following frustration at the failure of the church to agree on a replacement for Pope Clement IV, who died in 1268. Eventually, cardinals were locked inside the papal palace in Viterbo by exasperated magistrates.

Pope John Paul II changed the conclave rules in 1996, allowing cardinals to leave the Sistine Chapel during conclaves to eat and sleep if necessary.

Wow is that quite the collection of Dan Brown-level conspiracy thinking and attention to historical detail.

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