Sun, Jun 20, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Italian gossip site claims to get the juiciest scoops

DPA , ROME

It was a scoop to make any journalist jealous: the revelation that three Italian hostages held in Iraq until recently were only freed thanks to their sheer luck at finding themselves in the company of a Polish intelligence agent.

The agent, via a bean-sized microchip tracking device implanted in his forearm, transmitted their position to coalition special forces, who rode to the rescue.

Fantastic stuff. But true? Nobody knows.

The story did not cite any sources and did not provide any evidence to back its claim. It did not appear in any reputable daily or magazine, nor was it broadcast on any mainstream radio station or television network.

And yet, it was immediately picked up by at least two Italian news agencies and several influential dailies, including Rome's La Repubblica, Turin's La Stampa and the online edition of Milan's Il Corriere della Sera.

`Spy'

The alleged scoop was in fact first published on the Internet by Dagospia, a gossip web site that is rapidly redefining Italy's media landscape.

Dagospia is the brainchild of Roberto D'Agostino, a rumor-mill enthusiast who first made headlines in 1991 by slapping Vittorio Sgarbi, an obnoxious art critic-turned-politician, on live television.

The name of his Internet magazine, which he founded four years ago, derives from a contraction of his surname and "spia," Italian for "spy." Its design style resembles that of the Drudge Report, the Internet gossip site created by American journalist Matt Drudge.

D'Agostino openly speaks of Drudge as being the model that inspired Dagospia.

And just like Drudge played a pivotal role in unveiling the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the United States, Dagospia is rapidly establishing itself as Italy's premier source of gossip and insider information for journalists, captains of industry, politicians and media personalities, not to mention ordinary Italians, who visit the site in their millions.

Admiration

Last year, for instance, rumors that Corriere della Sera's board of directors would be replacing its chief editor because of the editor's hostility towards the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi first surfaced on Dagospia.

The change of guard at Italy's most influential daily did indeed take place several days later, earning D'Agostino widespread admiration from the country's media circles.

More recently, during a meeting with foreign journalists in Rome, a high-ranking Northern League politician cited a Dagospia article to denounce what he described as an "unnaturally cozy" relationship between the governor of the Bank of Italy and the chairman of Capitalia, one of Italy's largest banks.

Too hot

Dagospia relies on a growing network of strictly anonymous contributors to provide readers with daily servings of sex and celebrity rumors involving figures from the worlds of culture, politics, finance, sports and media.

It is equally disparaging toward everyone, whatever their status in society.

Many of the stories it prints are too hot to be published in the mainstream media -- usually because they risk offending sensitive advertisers or because they infringe upon the vested interests of very powerful individuals or corporations.

Some of Italy's best paparazzi send their irreverent snapshots to Dagospia because they are unable to find a buyer.

Voyeurism

A recent photograph of Berlusconi holding on to his private parts during a military parade, for instance, was only to be seen on Dagospia.

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