The brutal Nov. 1 slaying of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, has been front-page news in Britain and Italy since the...
ROME — The brutal Nov. 1 slaying of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, has been front-page news in Britain and Italy since the story first broke, but the styles of the two nations’ media could hardly be less similar.
The British tabloid press, famous for its seminude “page-three girls” and slang-filled headlines, has taken to referring to murder suspect Amanda Knox as “Foxy Knoxy,” and has focused on gruesome details of the slaying.
The Italian press, with its often flowery language and sometimes contradictory reporting, simply calls the 20-year-old Seattle native and University of Washington student “L’americana” or by her first name, while concentrating on the minutiae of the ongoing investigation.
Media experts say the differences reflect more than news judgment.
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“In every country, the style of the media is a function of the culture,” says Paul Smith, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a frequent commentator on media issues. “These styles don’t reflect the different cultures, they are an intricate part of them.”
While U.S. newspaper coverage of violent tragedies is usually straightforward, fact-driven and focused on major breaks in the story, the British and Italian press in their own way each feast on the tiniest developments.
To wit: On Wednesday, the gore-loving British tabloids reported that remnants of hair were found in Kercher’s clutched fists and provided an estimate of the amount of blood she lost before dying.
The process-oriented Italian press, meanwhile, said the first report on forensic evidence was expected today, and that despite the tragedy the city of Perugia has no desire for the University for Foreigners — where Kercher, Knox and Knox’s boyfriend and fellow suspect Raffaele Sollecito all studied — to move elsewhere.
Since Knox, her boyfriend and a second man were arrested in connection with the slaying, many photos of the three have appeared in British tabloids — mostly candid shots of them at parties, acting silly, flashing toothy smiles. The photos that have run in the Italian press are generally more solemn, serious shots taken after the slaying.
“I think that British people tend to look at many stories from a personal perspective,” says Lucy Beresford, a London psychotherapist, writer and media commentator. “Perhaps they want to know certain things because they may have a daughter about to study abroad and a story like this worries them.
“It is also relevant to note that there is a 24-hour news cycle and a case like this and some others evolves over a long period,” she adds.
British reports have often focused on gossip, including conversations Kercher reportedly had with friends about Knox’s purported bad habits. For example: Sollecito enjoyed violent comic books with titles like “Blood” and “Mad Psycho”; details of Knox’s MySpace.com profile (source of the nickname “Foxy Knoxy”); and gore — how deep the cut across Kercher’s throat was, or the “seminude” state she was found in the morning after she was killed.
Italian journalists, on the other hand, are focused on minutiae: the actual time of the death; whether a knife Sollecito owns could have been used to slash Kercher’s neck; the origins of a foreign hair found on the head of the third suspect, bar owner Diya “Patrick” Lumumba; and the owner of an unexplained high-heel shoe found in Kercher’s room.
Italian newspaper La Stampa on Wednesday ran a series of full-color artist’s renderings of how the slaying might have taken place and depicting the crime scene.
Very often, the “facts” reported in some Italian stories change from day to day.
“A problem with Italian media is that it is so competitive that every journalist on a story wants a scoop every day,” says Giuseppe Mazzei, a communications professor and commentator with Rome’s Sapienza University. “This means they have to focus on smaller and smaller areas and they don’t have the time to double- and triple-check information that may just be based on hearsay.”
Eric J. Lyman is a freelance writer based in Rome.