Perugia’s 2022 International Journalism Festival

After attending #IFJ22 in Perugia, The Matthew reports a handful of interesting and inspiring events related to international journalism and its evolution in today’s world.


By Arianna Lopez / Matthew staff || Edited by Sara Segat

Courtesy of Federica Bocco

On April 8, The Matthew’s Webmaster Francesca Cucuzza, JCU Student Activities Coordinator Federica Bocco, and I departed from Roma Termini for Perugia, eager to attend the 2022 International Journalism Festival.

The International Journalism Festival is an annual event held in Perugia, Italy, since 2006 in April. The four-day festival attracts journalists, journalism scholars, college and high school students, media agencies, and anyone interested in the multifarious topics discussed on numerous panels. The festival is free, and after being canceled for two years due to the pandemic, this year’s dynamic was on a first-come, first-serve basis. A handful of the most beautiful and historical buildings in Perugia hosted sessions every hour, with panels of experts and speakers from across the world. Participants with speakers’ tags, the press with their cameras, and attendees with leaflets — everyone walked the streets and the restaurants of the city center creating a thrilling and hectic atmosphere around the town.

Despite the cold weather and the rain, we made the most of our three days in Perugia, attending session after session, encountering inspiring speakers, listening to enlightening stories, and networking. Some of the sessions we attended addressed communication without discrimination, queer culture, investigative journalism, mental health in the newsrooms, and journalists in the corporate scene.

On Friday at 2 p.m. we attended the session, “Lessons: Journalists in a Corporate World,” in Sala Delle Colonne, a beautiful building in the middle of the main street of Perugia. The panel was composed of moderator Garret Goodman and speakers Lauren Moraski, Mark Frankfel, and Isabella Roughol. All four of them worked for a long time in the public journalism scene and then switched to corporate private venues. In the sessions, they explained why they made that choice and why they were proud of their work, challenging the stereotype of “the journalist who stopped serving the public good for money.” Frankfel, who worked for many years for the BBC, explained how, despite commonplaces, he still feels like a journalist, even if he works for a company:

“What made me pursue a career in journalism for me was making a difference. I am still making a difference in society, I am not making investigative articles, but I am still teaching to an audience what a company can do for the good,” he says, “it is very easy to underestimate the presence and the power of values in the corporate world.”

Moraski, who used to work at the Huffington Post and now is editor-in-chief for Merck, said: “Journalism is evolving. Profit is still a dirty word for a lot of journalists, and it should not be since our entire world is driven by profit.”

Later that afternoon we attended the session, “How to Start a Mental Health Conversation in Your Newsroom.” The panel was composed by John Crowley, Eliza Anyangwe, Hannah Storm, and Sarah Ward-Lilley. These talented journalists all found themselves leading a group of fellow journalists or a newsroom at some point in their careers and they asked themselves questions about whether they were doing enough for their colleagues’ mental health. Crowley and Storm founded the Headlines network, which promotes mental health in the media world. Former managing editor at BBC News Sarah Ward-Lilley, recognized that the conversation about mental health in the newsrooms started around the 2000s when awareness started appearing specifically around trauma and PTSD. COVID-19 only pushed forward the agenda since, “it brought us in our bedrooms and kitchens” forcing us to know each other better.

Courtesy of Francesca Cucuzza

Crowley, who worked and led teams for the Daily Telegraph, added that the big taboo around mental health for journalists was born around the idea that “we are supposed to spin around places all the time.” He added, “saying that we are struggling makes us believe that we are not good journalists.”

Anyangwe, reporter for CNN and The Guardian, also brought to the table the risk of “projecting Western-based ideas of mental health into the newsroom where there may be workers who grew up in a different environment.” The panel recognized that a mental health conversation must start somewhere, and managers, although they cannot do everything alone without HR support, need to be trained to create a safe space in their newsrooms.

On Saturday, we attended an incredibly interesting session in Italian about inclusivity. The session was titled, “Queer Culture, Drag Queens, Schwa: Communicating without Discrimination,” and the panel was composed of sociolinguist sensation Vera Gheno, drag queens Karma_B, and journalist Pasquale Quaranta.

With wit, laughter, and great courage and spirit, the four opened a conversation on non-binary language and its importance. Gheno responded to the many criticisms that are often made about the schwa integration in language, especially in the Italian language, where there are no gender-neutral pronouns. She reminded us that it is important to study and inform ourselves:

Courtesy of Federica Bocco

“This is not new […] there has always been a need for a more inclusive language. The difference is that, right now, the phenomenon has a name, and that allows us to know it better.”

Quaranta joked about how, in the Neapolitan dialect, gender-neutral forms have always existed, because of the habit of cutting the last syllable of every word. He remarked that often people are misinformed to the point that they do not know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, or between drag queens and transgender people, and therefore they may have a difficult time understanding what the schwa is and how it works.

Karma_B cleverly remarked that one cannot argue “there is no need of the schwa,” just because it does not affect them personally, reminding us that there are people who suffer in front of a bathroom door or feel conflicted about pronouns.

Quaranta then told the room an anecdote to make us reflect upon the matter. He was once told he should stop, “writing only about queer rights and the likes because it would never become a complete journalist by doing so.” He asked, “But could one ever dream of saying this to any other expert? Would they say the same thing to a journalist writing only about the Vatican or about soccer?”. Information and education are still essential in a world where we should strive to communicate and inform without prejudice and discrimination.

On the third day, we attended a session on “Undercover Investigative Journalism,” with renowned investigative reporters on the panel: award-winning journalist and reporter, Fabrizio Gatti, winner of the 2006 European Union Journalist award; Al Jazeera Investigative Unit journalist James Kleinfield; and the journalist behind the Black Lobby and Blood Money undercover investigations, Sacha Biazzo, all created a dynamic discussion telling us about their career as investigative journalists and the challenges and benefits that undercover investigations bring.

It was simply fascinating listening to stories of how Kleinfield unmasked the Israeli lobby in the United States; how Gatti spent months undercover as a migrant to cover the abuses behind the Mediterranean migration routes; and how Biazzo exposed the links between electoral campaigns and organized crime in Italy.

Overall, the festival was such a pleasant event. Perhaps more could have been done in terms of COVID preventive measures and social distancing.

I recommend this journalism event to anyone in our community, from aspiring journalists, writers, and activists, to general-knowledge enthusiasts and communicators, as it is a perfect opportunity to enlarge our horizons and knowledge. And if you happen to find yourself starving along the streets of Perugia between sessions and panels, it is good to know that Perugia is also the city of chocolate, and you will find delicious opportunities to taste it at every angle.