Tuesday, February 05, 2008

In Living Color: Revolution at L'Osservatore

For most of the few among us who still start the day with paper-and-ink news, Sunday's front page of the Vatican daily might not look all that unusual.

Yet for the first time in its 147-year history, a non-commemorative edition of L'Osservatore Romano hit the stands in color. It's just the latest change by new editor Gian Maria Vian to re-brand the papal paper, which had become perceived in recent years as dour and far from the realm of newsmaking.

Lest anyone think otherwise, Vian's revolution comes on orders from above:
Other changes include more articles by women - a specific request by the Pope - more international cover, and a more reader-friendly layout and typeface.

"The newspaper had to be renewed," said Vian, who has worked as a historian, journalist and university professor.

"The Pope asked me for a more international scope, more attention to other churches and religions, including non-Catholic ones, and more female by-lines," he said.

Indeed, while the front page of Sunday's edition led with a speech by the Pope to Rome seminarians, it also included an article on the latest suicide bombings in Iraq and an editorial about the future of that country.

The second page had news stories from Kabul, Cairo, the United Nations, Madrid and even an article from New York about Microsoft's $45bn bid to buy Yahoo!, a novelty for a newspaper that hardly ever ran economic or business stories.

Inside was a long interview with Rome's chief rabbi.

"The newspaper's editorial line is a lot more independent than most people think," said Vian, who added that only a few articles about international relations were vetted by the Secretariat of State, the Vatican's diplomatic department.

"Certainly, we reflect the point of view of the Holy See, that's obvious. But we are a newspaper. We are not an official bulletin," he said.
A "news-junkie" once given to offering long interviews in print, B16 previewed his blueprint for his paper in a November 2006 speech to the editors of Italy's Catholic press.

"Your weeklies," he said, "are rightly described as the 'people's papers,' for they keep in touch with the events and life of local persons and pass on the popular traditions and rich cultural and religious patrimony of your towns and cities."

"Continue to be 'papers of the people and among the people,'" the pontiff added, "training grounds for comparison and loyal discussion among different opinions so as to encourage authentic dialogue, indispensable for the growth of both civil and ecclesial communities."

While the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone spontaneously announced some months ago that the paper would, in its entirety, be available online within short order, that hasn't yet come to pass.

L'Osservatore publishes daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, German and French. A monthly edition in Polish was instituted by John Paul II.

One thing likely to make its pages later this week: a high-level Vatican conference on femininity to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Mulieris dignitatem.