Because in this confusing phase of globalization, loss of identity, and crisis,newspapers have discovered that they have an amazing role as cultural mediatorsbecause they are so close to daily life, so flexible in adapting to facts as they followthem, because of the almost technical connection that they can create between eventsand ideas, for the intellectual energy that they can summon up, for their crucialtranslation of scientific or academic language of the experts for consumption by thegeneral public. Mediation even in the literal sense of the term: because the internet inthe richness of its blogs and the ranking by number of clicks inevitably rewardspolarization and the most radical and extreme positions, while newspapers select,summarize, prioritize, make choices – and in so doing introduce elements of rationalityand rationalization and take democratic responsibility. In Italy, where the political partycrisis means that all of the parties are new and have no cultural or historical background,the newspapers have been processing events for readers, interweaving them withopinion and values as a point of reference, reinterpreting the controversial everydayissues of post-modernity in an ethical, cultural and political key.One could say that by doing this in the tiny space they have at their disposal, the paperswork on the cultural foundations of a community, trying to give the reader, disorientatedby the lack of sound and permanent points of reference, those elements of experienceand intellectual cohesion which make it possible to view events in a way that is notpurely one-off and emotional. A particularly useful function at a time when, as ZygmuntBauman says, “nothing lasts long enough to be fully acquired”.If all this is true we can understand why the conflict between newspapers and powerstill exists even in the internet era, as their relationship remains perforce a difficult one.Indeed if this is the democratic function of newspapers, apart from their obligation togive the news, those in power (of whatever political view) are bound to find it anuisance, an inconvenient filter between what governments call the people and what thepapers consider as citizens, and the sphere of government. The Italian situation is evenmore complex, even starting with structural data. For years now, the ratio of newspapercopies sold to population has not exceeded 10%, which is a Mediterranean ratio,nowhere near the 28.9 copies per one hundred inhabitants sold in Germany, the 30.3 inAustria and the 41.2 in Sweden.This phenomenon can be partly explained by the space that television occupies. Italy isa country in which television devours a proportion of the whole advertising pie which isunequalled in any other democracy. According to World Press Trend 2003 the shareheld by television in the US is no higher than 36 per cent, in Germany it is just over 33per cent, while in Italy in 2007 it reached 54 per cent, forcing the newspapers to raisetheir prices in order to survive, and making it virtually impossible for the weaker sectorsof the population, the hardest hit by the economic crisis, to buy them. In the very specialmedia diet of the Italians – studied by Censis in 2004 - 9.1 per cent of the populationonly watch television, 37.5 per cent never read a book and do not even know what theinternet is. This is what Censis defines as a condition of “television isolation”, anisolation common to 46.6 per cent of the population who have exposure to a singlemedia instrument on which they depend for all items of information and opinions onpublic affairs.
Reuters Memorial Lecture 2009 by Carlo De Benedetti