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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