As our trip drew to a close, we visited some more important sites in Florence, including San Marco, home to political thought, debate, and the rise and fall of the coup that ousted the House of Medici for 14 year. We also visited the location of an Italian newspaper, La Nazione, which is the modern day venue best known for informing the public of civic news and events. As we discussed in class, Machiavelli stresses the importance of speech and dissent to liberty. As seen in Florence’s history, much of the changes that occurred in history resulted from dissent and political upheaval.
The San Marco Convent was home to the controversial Domican preacher Girolamo Savonarola. He preached against what he called “vanities,” like expensive clothing, jewels, non-religious artwork and so on, all of which could be attributed to the House of the Medici. This point of view was displayed all throughout the convent. Each of the Dominican’s rooms were very simple. The single fresco in each of the rooms was for inspirational purposes, and not to display extravagance. However, the renovation of the convent was commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici and if a Medici is involved in any project, there is always an element of extravagance.
There is one section of the convent that I remember in particular that seemed out of place amongst the simplicity. The ceiling had several gold squares with flowers in the center. Then, above the doorway is the Medici Family crest, for everyone to see. The contrast between the simplicity of the Dominicans cells and the pops of the Medici Family reaffirm the differences Savonarola had with the House of Medici Family and the way they ruled Florence.
When I think of Savonarola writing his sermons in the San Marco convent, I think of many contemporary cases of free press around the world. Firstly, Savonarola preached extreme views and claimed to be a prophet, but he attracted huge crowds for his sermons and many people supported him. I see Savonarola’s approach to free speech as slightly different from the way people approach free press today. Let’s compare Savonarola’s notorious “Bonfire of the Vanities,” where they burned all things immoral, and a journalist writing a controversial article about a current event. The difference between these two situations is the limitation to liberty. The reporter that has a controversial story has to think about the repercussions if the story is released. The story can’t be published if it puts national security at risk, but the reporter could risk their job and release it anyways. This thought process probably didn’t happen when Savonarola made decisions because it was a different type of government. The United States sacrifices some liberty for security. Liberty and security are inversely related.
The next location that linked nicely to the topic of liberty and free speech was the Italian newspaper offices, La Nazione. After discussing the negative direction American media is taking, I got the impression that the reporters at La Nazione still value reporting that gives the facts while still being done ethically. The example I remember specifically was the discussion about mentioned names in articles. One of the Italian reporters gave the example of a suicide story. If a person committed suicide and the cause was because of a broken heart, the name would not be mentioned because it did not benefit the story. I thought this was interesting because, as an American, the first thing I would want to know is who committed suicide. This example showed me that, unlike much of the American journalists, the Italians keep regard ethics as very important.
However, differences aside, La Nazione is experiencing the same downsizing that American newspapers are dealing with. As we were taking of tour of the building, one of the Italian reporters pointed to a large office space connected to the La Nazione offices where machines were held to print the newspapers. Now, ironically, the building is full of desks with high-speed computers that do so much more than those machines did. Their amount of space is smaller and they do not have as many reporters as they had before. The reason being: media convergence. As new technology moves in, old methods are being pushed out. Major newspapers have websites where they can blog and immediately publish a story without the delay of printing the paper. The struggle now is how to balance media convergence while still putting out ethical and factual information that will inform the citizens. Much easier said than done.