Italy is a land of print. One such publication is the punchy periodical ‘Internazionale’ that, since the 1990s, has been selecting what it considers to be the best of international journalism and translating it into Italian. But there’s a lot more to it than that...
On a typically sunny Monday morning in autumn the main meeting room at the offices of Internazionale magazine is bursting at the seams. Some 30 journalists, many of them standing, gather at a large round table that is covered in an explosion of the best of the national and international press. The pile is ripe with the fruits of the weekend: everything from Munich’s SZ Magazin to New York’s T, which lies across the UK’s Observer. Conversation quickly turns to Barcelona, where separatists had clashed with Spanish police the day before. “Do we have anything from El País?” says Giovanni De Mauro, who is unmistakably – although not imposingly – in charge. “And how about La Vanguardia?”
Within a few minutes, and by way of an informal discussion that goes from Catalonia to Bosnia and then to Brazil, the essence of the week’s cover story and inside content takes shape. There are, however, loose ends to tie up. “I have nothing that stands out from Asia,” says Junko Terao, editor of the Asia-Pacific section, while she leafs through a broadsheet. At Internazionale the weekly mission is to scour the world’s press and translate the best of it into Italian.
And then the magazine’s most pivotal of two weekly editorial meetings is over and in his book-lined office, the door to which is permanently open, editor in chief De Mauro reflects on how it all began. “I was in my twenties and three friends and I started a magazine,” he says breezily, in the face of the obvious obstacles that come to mind at the thought of young people starting a nationally distributed periodical in 1993. An investor (who has remained “silent”) was found and the four young editors set about creating what is now one of Italy’s most popular current-affairs weeklies with 123,000 sales a week. Inspiration came mainly from Paris and the Courrier International, which publishes translated current affairs and culture from around the world.
Today Internazionale magazine is still run by De Mauro and his co-founders and is, crucially, still independent in a land where the media and publishing worlds have long been dominated by a clutch of domestic giants. “We have never wanted to be an international press review,” says the boss, letting his normally reserved guard down. Indeed, where the danger of Internazionale’s model might be the creation of a bland, voiceless collation of syndicated material, the magazine has matured to have an identity it can call its own and, where possible, reprints articles in full, allowing for the “long read”. Internazionale’s editorial voice comes through particularly in the culture pages, which form an invaluable listings guide. Clarity comes in both visual and written form and exudes from all of the journal’s 100-plus pages.
In 2009, London’s Mark Porter (The Guardian, Dagens Naeringsliv, Svenska Dagbladet) was drafted in to overhaul Internazionale’s graphic design. Porter’s banner, which uses a soft navy blue and royal-yellow stencil as well as a simplified Lyon letterset, makes the magazine’s graphic language authoritative yet approachable. But it is the content that’s really lucid. At Internazionale translation is mastered and edited to great effect thanks to people such as Giulia Zoli, a senior copy editor. “Not only do we have to adapt the piece – as it wasn’t originally intended for an Italian public – but we want the Italian to be as clear as possible and always correct,” she says sternly, peering over her spectacles. Paradoxically for a truly international publication, imported words are largely frowned upon here. That’s unlike much of the rest of the Italian media, which has rapaciously adopted (bad) English. “We try to ‘Italianise’ as much as possible, as long as it doesn’t become ridiculous,” says Zoli. “There’s almost always an Italian word for it.”
The provenance of Internazionale’s articles and reports are made clear with emboldened bylines and the names of the newspaper or magazine in question, including The Economist, Regno Unito (translated by Internazionale in Italy), The Asahi Shimbun, Giappone, and Rob Brezsny’s horoscope on the back page.
But who are the magazine’s readers? “We’ve never actually gone about researching exactly who they are,” says De Mauro, but this overtly conscientious and precise man certainly has a good idea who is helping make Internazionale become such a national success. “We get letters from teenagers,” he says, keen to emphasise the younger end of a very young readership that he thinks are mostly in their twenties and thirties. Magazine sales are divided roughly 50:50 between subscriptions and edicola (kiosk) outlets and more than half the subscribers are women. This last fact alone putting Internazionale in an exceptional position among Italy’s current-affairs weeklies.
Internazionale a Ferrara is billed as a festival of international journalism. The annual event, held at the end of September in the famously liveable and bike-friendly town near Bologna, provides the perfect opportunity to meet those readers and to understand what this magazine has come to represent in Italy, beyond the confines of the office in Rome. At its 11th edition this year about 76,000 attendees flooded the piazzas, theatres and castles of Ferrara to take part in dozens of talks and seminars from 250 speakers. In the lofty surroundings of the city’s Teatro Comunale, former Greek finance minister and socioeconomic man of the hour Yanis Varoufakis captivated his 1,000-plus audience with a talk on nationalism. This year’s guest of honour was American political activist Angela Davis, who was the star of the show at a US-themed talk called “It’s still a dream”. In the Teatro Nuovo, while former Italian prime minister and ex-president of the European Commission Romano Prodi was on stage, a diligent young woman from Bologna was furiously taking notes. “I come every year,” she says. “You can’t find this kind of event anywhere else.” Her profession? A budding political science student, perhaps? No: she’s a qualified biochemist. This sort of highly informed, globally minded public is the backbone of Ferrara’s youthful audience.
Back in Rome, Monday morning has turned into Monday afternoon and the clock is ticking; stories must be finalised to allow everything to be translated (and checked by Zoli’s eagle eyes). Terao has overcome the familiar problem of news fatigue: what should her lead be when she has done North Korea and Myanmar to death? “I’ve got it,” she says with relief. “I’m going to run a story from the Asia Times on motorway construction in Indonesian Papua.”
That this magazine is flourishing, and attracting ever more young and female readers in a country that is dominated by old men, is testament to its enthusiastic editorial team. In an era in which news sources are under much scrutiny and the populist language of nationalism dominates so much of the media, Internazionale is doing exactly what its name suggests.
Perhaps it’s time that the news presses of London and Washington took a page from Internazionale’s book. With a socially conscious freshness, this 24-year-old publication is striving to bring together the best journalism in the world with some of the most engaged readers to be found – and in the process it is also gathering the very best of Italy.
Facts & figures:
Weekly circulation: 123,000 (2015)
Weekly circulation of competitors (2017): L’Espresso – 276,000
Vanity Fair – 207,000
Panorama – 173,000
Income from advertising: Approximately 20 per cent
‘Edicola’ (kiosk) outlets sold in: 26,000
On-sale day: Friday