Sunday, April 24, 2005

After the pope rush, the hard questions

The votive candles are extinguished. The no-fly zone over Rome will be lifted shortly, ditto for the car ban in the center of town. Papa Benedetto Sedicesimo (it doesn't quite roll off the tongue like JP Due, does it?) is no doubt in his Adidas track suit by now, hard at work penning his next message to the masses. The pelligrini are finishing their linguine pomodoro before embarking on the return journey to their towns, villages, day jobs. The media packs will thin out from today too. In other words, normalcy (or "normality" to our friends the Brits) is returning to Rome. But one crucial matter about the future of this city/church/world remains unresolved despite the round-the-clock news coverage and all the forward-looking news analyses you will read in the Sunday papers.

I'm talking about real estate, prime flats in one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city. When John Paul II's health began failing in the mid-90s, deep-pocketed media outlets swooped into town and bought, rented, leased, cajoled their way into every building with a roof terrace overlooking the dome of St. Peter's. Reuters and NBC TV, I recall friends and ex-colleagues telling me, have fat pads just off via Conciliazione. For years these outposts remained vacant, or anonymously occupied. But once the pope's health waned, phoom! Canvas roofs, floodlights and bazooka-styled camera lenses were put in position, creating an exclusive tent city ten stories up.
Within days, well-coiffed tele-hacks would stand with their back to the dome and report on the death of the pope. Live from Rome, we bring you the most expensive live shot in the world.

For media outlets, what to do now? Continue to rent? At these extortionate prices? (Rome is going through a Manhattan-style real estate boom with rents and property prices rising at a blasphemous rate.) I can just picture Monday morning when the expense reports come trickling in to the bean counter's office. He'll take the back side of his red pen and scratch his scalp (lack of hair is why he is a bean counter after all, and not, say a schmoozy, charmster news management type who gets to stay in said flats when he travels to exotic locales like Rome) and conclude now is the time to address such a journalistic excess at the next budget meeting. Should we, respected news operation that we are, hold on to a flat in Rome? Should we sub-lease it out? Sure, the new pope is 78, but he's looking kinda, you know, spry,sportivo even. If we profess to be a lean news operation, trying to make our financial targets, can we honestly say a flash pad high above Rome a sound investment? Or, is this an expendable luxury?

From my humble, not to mention objective and rational, vantage point (IT'S BEST TO GET OUT NOW) I can't advise the media titans of this world on such real estate conundrums. It really (I CAN HELP YOU TAKE IT OFF YOUR BOOKS) is a matter only they can resolve. It will ultimately come down (IF YOU'RE FEELING A BIT PRESSURED, LET'S DISCUSS A SUB-LEASE) to that age-old question: can you afford to slum it, BBC-style, and do the reportage from the ground, among the people? Or do you need to continue to send the statement that you are a powerful media conglomerate that refuses to skimp on news coverage?

As always, I'm here to help.

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