My years on the "Corriere del Po"

Written by  Gaetano Tumiati
Memories of the newspaper which launched a brilliant career in journalism in 1946
In early February 1946, after two years fighting in Libya and almost three in captivity, I returned at last to Europe, and to Italy. I arrived in Ferrara at around two o'clock on a cold day. A heavy grey sky hung over the plain.

I walked along slowly: past the ruins of the Church of San Benedetto, destroyed by the bombing, the Palazzo dei Diamanti fortunately safe, at least as far as I could seem from the outside, Parco Massari deserted, Piazza Ariostea with its white column and the poet standing all alone on top. And, finally, Via Palestro, my street, home. Home: I hesitated for a fraction of a second before ringing the brass doorbell. Then I lifted my finger, pushed the bell. From inside, in the distance, I heard my mother's cry from the stairwell: "He's here! He's here!"

Enough. I wanted to relive that crucial instant - I had come out of that door at twenty two, I was returning at twenty seven - because for me, as for many others in my generation, it marked not just a longed-for moment, but also the turning point between two stages in my life: the end of youth and the start - maybe not of full maturity, but of a new awareness full of ideas, doubts and above all hopes.
For me, inter alia, the hope of becoming a journalist.

Shut up in my room for hours, I spent the time fashioning the scribbled notes which I had managed to save during the last difficult years into ordered accounts of the war.

Naturally, to be taken on by a newspaper it was not enough to have written stories, or even to have published a few. Of course you needed to be able to write, but you had to be prepared to start at the bottom, you needed determination and tenacity. Preferably guaranteed by somebody with influence.

The first gifts I had; the "someone with influence" was Ireneo Farneti, a lawyer in his fifties, my adopted cousin, decorated in WWI, opposed to fascism from the start, and a member of the national liberation committee representing left-wing Catholics.

I had no party affiliations and I felt and proclaimed myself a secular socialist, but this was not an obstacle for Ireneo Farneti and even less so for the editors of the Corriere del Po, the liberation committee's daily newspaper the ownership of which had just passed to the regional trade union organisation for Ferrara, Ravenna and Rovigo.

So the newspaper where I started work was situated firmly on the left: owned by the trade unions, with a communist director and a socialist editor-in-chief, fervently dedicated to promoting the interest of workers and agricultural labourers, admiring or at the least sympathetic towards the Soviet Union. But I think it would be a mistake to regard it - as many then did - as a coldly bureaucratic monolith with no debate and no shades of opinion.

From the outside, the building in Viale Cavour still had the authoritative dignity it had acquired when it was the home of Italo Balbo's Corriere Padano; but inside there were half-empty rooms and barren walls, an almost total absence of the equipment, tools and documentation needed in an editorial office.

The lively atmosphere formed a complete contrast: between those bare walls the voices you heard were all youthful; in those rooms, none of the staff were old or even middle aged; everyone on the small editorial team was under the age of twenty five. The youngest, Flavio Dolcetti, a very active reporter even if he only held an unofficial post as "news assistant", was just seventeen. Even the newspaper manager Nino Bardilli fell within the age limit, which was exceeded only by the director Amleto Bassi, and the editor-in-chief - there was no deputy director - Alberto Felletti Spadazzi.

I threw myself headlong into this work; everything was new to me, and I was happy to take on as many different tasks as was only possible in those days and on a newspaper with only four pages (six under exceptional circumstances): reporter, editor, writing opinion pieces or headlines, working on the layout, particularly carefully when I had to see to the layout of articles by illustrious contributors such as Vasco Pratolini, Alfonso Gatto, Guido Aristarco or Giancarlo Vigorelli.

I worked a twelve hour day, from four in the afternoon until four in the morning, with just a short pause for supper in Via Palestro before cycling back with a thermos of hot milky coffee hanging from my handlebars for the hunger pangs which would strike me between two and three in the morning.

Sometimes, if the teleprinter brought sensational news, maybe about the Soviet Union, disagreements and arguments might break out between communists, socialists and independents; but these never went too far: witticisms and outbursts of ridicule which came to an end when the printing works foreman, the elderly Baruffi, arrived triumphantly with the first copy of the newspaper hot off the press. The next day we would pick up the work, united in our beliefs on internal politics, always excited by the journalistic fever which made every effort easy and even pleasant as long as we could beat our colleagues on the rival papers, the Giornale dell'Emilia and L'Avvenire.

With these convictions and fervour, in a perpetual haze of enthusiasm and disappointments, we lived through all the major events of the day - the signing of the Constitution, agricultural reform, the socialist split - until the torrid election campaign of '48.

The overwhelming Christian Democrat victory of 18 April and the defeat of the Popular Front more or less marked the end of the Corriere del Po and my first experience of journalism. On 1 September, the paper, whilst keeping its masthead, became the Ferrara edition of the Progresso d'Italia, a pro-communist newspaper from Bologna. And that same autumn I moved on to work in Milan for L'Avanti, under Riccardo Lombardi.

My time at the Corriere del Po had lasted barely twenty months, but I remember that time as one of the most important periods in my personal and professional development. In those twenty months I had the chance to work in the most diverse areas, to examine and develop my ideas, to consider the obvious and the ambiguous aspects of politics.

In that building on Viale Cavour, I got to know at close quarters the extraordinary men who worked as printers on the hot metal presses: unlike us on the editorial staff, they were all elderly, or at least looked it, marked as they were by the poisonous fumes of molten lead: deeply lined faces, often toothless, prematurely bald, but still full of enthusiasm for their work and often ready to give us youngsters wise advice on the problems of our profession and the values of life itself.