What is your name, age, and location?
Chiara Papaccio, 36, Rome, Italy. Although I’m a bit all over the place these days… In more ways than one!
What is your profession?
I’m a journalist and a writer.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I wanted to major in environmental studies but I put it on hold when I was approached for a job as a junior editor for a music magazine. I worked ever since and university eventually fell by the wayside… Which I still regret. In the meantime I did pass my bar exam in journalism, which is one of those Italian anomalies that do not exist anywhere else: I guess it corresponds to a Bachelor’s Degree.
What was your first job?
I operated a cash register in a theme park!
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
I did have an epiphany when I first read Daniela Amenta’s features, during my late teens. She’s one of the few prominent music writers of Italy. She basically invented rock critique in this country and I’m very lucky to be able to call her my friend. I had been in this career for a few years already when Daniela brought me over to work along with her at E Polis, the newspaper I’ve been employed at for the last three years: she believed in me and dared me to approach other issues rather than just entertainment and music, so I can say that I’m now fit to write about literally any kind of subject, from politics to technology – she turned me from an amateur into a real journalist.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
Working at E Polis. I love dealing with startups and the company behind this newspaper worked exactly as a dot-com. So, lots of creative energies on the table, less to no bureaucracy involved – and that can seriously hinder you in this country – a svelte approach to work and a team of fantastic human beings to top it all – I maintain a great personal relationship with my colleagues even after I left.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
I’m not sure how much of it it’s me being good at connecting with people and how much of that “being good at connecting” comes from being a woman, although I strongly suspect it’s the latter, but there have been times where I was offered exclusives on account of having maintained a nice personal relationship to certain media officers, press attachés or publicists. Nothing major or even… inappropriate, mind you! Just, as Susannah Wellford Shakow pointed out in her interview with No Country for Young Women, if you’re nice you will be remembered.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
Well, I have a whole collection! In general, even though there are far more women than men in this line of work, it’s very common to have a man promoted over you when you’re competing for the same position, and that has happened to me a few times. But this one story is actually kind of funny to think of now, although at the time I was livid. I had applied for a job as editor-in-chief for a lifestyle magazine, and while the job interview went fine and the first few meetings with the editor and the publisher were nothing but encouraging, on my first day I found myself having to answer the phone, sending out faxes and the like, making cups of coffee or getting the lunch for everyone else. The phone thing stuck with me the most as I was instructed to use a different name for myself each time I answered (as “It makes us look bigger than we are”). When I confronted my editor about it, he said that being the only woman in the office, it was expected of me to do all of those things, and that it would have been actually degrading to ask the same to my other colleagues. I left a couple of days after that conversation.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I admire whoever gets to reach center stage while juggling their personal life together with their career and their ideas. It takes courage and a certain… grace. So, Adrienne Rich, when she famously refused the National Medal of Arts, would be a good example. So is the late and sorely missed Nilde Iotti, with her incredible poise as a mother and a politician.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Do not close yourself off to the experience of learning, even while at work. Be always open to new ideas and remember that, first and foremost, everything you write is a story you didn’t know before – therefore you’re your very first reader. There are a lot of eye-openers in this career, if you only let them.
– Interview by Elena Rossini