1 June 2021

Arrigo Benedetti - journalist and author

Founder and editor of three major news magazines

Arrigo Benedetti had a passion for news journalism
Arrigo Benedetti had a passion
for news journalism

Arrigo Benedetti, one of the most influential figures in postwar Italian news journalism, was born on this day in 1910 in Lucca.

Benedetti was the founding editor of three of Italy’s most important news magazines, one of which, L’Espresso, still ranks as one of the two most prominent Italian weeklies, alongside Panorama.

Of the other two, L’Europeo, which was launched in 1945, ceased publication in 1995, although the title was briefly revived in the 2000s, while Oggi continues to be published some 82 years after its inception, making it one of Italy’s oldest still-active magazines.

Arrested by the Fascist regime during World War Two, Benedetti escaped after the prison in which he was being held was bombed during an Allied air strike.

Born Giulio Benedetti, the son of a sales representative, he studied literature and philosophy at the University of Pisa and had some literary works published in the early 1930s. 

But he had ambitions to pursue a career in journalism rather than academia and in 1937 moved to Rome to join his boyhood friend, Mario Pannunzio, in working for a new weekly news magazine, Omnibus, edited by Leo Longanesi.

Omnibus was closed on the orders of prime minister Benito Mussolini in 1939, deemed to be a subversive publication. Benedetti follows Longanesi in writing for another newspaper, Tutto, which was also suppressed.

At this point, Benedetti decided to leave Rome, accepting an invitation along with Pannunzio from the publisher, Angelo Rizzoli, to go to Milan with the aim of launching a new newspaper. They decided on a weekly publication along the lines of Omnibus, inviting young intellectuals not aligned with the Fascist regime to write social commentaries, and launched Oggi on June 3, 1939.

A modern edition of L'Espresso, which was launched by Benedetti in 1955
A modern edition of L'Espresso, which
was launched by Benedetti in 1955
Oggi’s existence was tolerated until 1942 before the regime finally moved to close its offices and prevent the publication of further editions.

When Mussolini was overthrown and arrested in 1943, Benedetti celebrated. In collaboration with Pannunzio and Longanesi, he wrote a leader column in Il Messaggero, the Rome newspaper, hailing the return to freedom.

It was only a matter of weeks, however, before Mussolini was freed from his house arrest by a daring Nazi raid on the Apennine mountains ski lodge where he was being held.

Benedetti left Milan with his pregnant wife, Caterina, whom he had married in 1938, to live at her parents' home outside Reggio Emilia, reasoning that they would be safer there than in the Lombardy capital. 

Italy by then had signed an armistice with the Allies, but much of northern Italy was still under the control of the Nazis, who installed Mussolini as the leader of a new Italian Social Republic.

Benedetti was soon arrested, along with many other opponents of the regime, and detained in a prison in Reggio Emilia. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Allies and of being in possession of weapons. On the eve of his trial, however, the prison was almost destroyed in an air raid and Benedetti escaped.

Back in Milan, he joined the anti-Nazi resistance before returning to journalism as soon as he could once the German surrender was secured.

Politician Eugenio Scalfari, pictured in 2016
Politician Eugenio Scalfari,
pictured in 2016
In 1945, along with the entrepreneur Gianni Mazzocchi, he launched the news magazine L'Europeo, which quickly established a following among Italian readers thanks to the contributions of journalists such as Tommaso Besozzi, Enzo Biagi, Giorgio Bocca, Oriana Fallaci and Indro Montanelli.

In 1953 the Rizzoli publishing company bought the publication, but Benedetti’s relationship with the publisher became difficult and he left the magazine and teamed up with politician Eugenio Scalfari to launch another new weekly, L'Espresso, in October 1955, with backing from the progressive industrialist Adriano Olivetti.

Benedetti was the editor-in-chief until 1963, having uncovered major scandals in the health and housing industries. He handed over to Scalfari, who was strongly focussed on corruption and clientelism by the Christian Democrat party. 

In addition to his journalism, Benedetti wrote novels notable for their meticulous attention to detail and a narrative style that drew comparisons with Italian neorealist cinema, in particular in his last novel, Rosso al vento (Red in the Wind), describing life in Italy during World War II. 

He intended to spend his last years living in his villa outside Lucca but became increasingly ill in his later years and died of kidney failure in a Rome clinic in October, 1976. 

The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest in the Tuscan city of Lucca
The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest
in the Tuscan city of Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambiance, but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   Of particular interest is the oval Piazza Antifeatro, which owes its shape to a second century Roman amphitheatre. The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists. 

The Basilica di San Prospero in the square of the same name in Reggio Emilia
The Basilica di San Prospero in the square
of the same name in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, a city in the Po Valley 28km (17 miles) southeast of Parma and 32km (20 miles) northwest of Modena, has an attractive historic centre with a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name.  The city is believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag. There are historical records that suggest that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green that was decreed in Reggio Emilia in 1797.  The city today lacks the cultural wealth of neighbouring Parma and is consequently less visited but it Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano - known in English as Parmesan - is thought to have originated in nearby Bibbiano, about 15km (9 miles) to the southeast.

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of playwright Francesco Scipione

1819: The birth of Francis V, the last reigning Duke of Modena

1858: The birth of mezzo-soprano Alice Barbi

1901: The birth of Princess Iolanda of Savoy, one of the Italian royals banished in 1946

(Picture credits: Piazza Antifeatro by Saverio Giusti from Pixabay; Basilica di San Prospero by RatMan1234 via Wikimedia Commons)


No comments:

Post a Comment