I covered the rise and fall of three Italian governments and two popes as a correspondent for Reuters in Rome.
My coverage was wide-ranging, from economics news, to art thefts, the migration crisis, and the Costa Concordia disaster.
Here is a selection of my work:
As Rome correspondent I covered the increasing numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Italy in rickety boats over the Mediterranean. As order in Libya disintegrated and the Syrian civil war raged, ever more people arrived seeking better lives in Europe. Italy strained to cope.
— Yannis Koutsomitis (@YanniKouts) May 13, 2014
An aging population, corruption in politics and years of stagnant growth led to a deep cynicism in Italian society and nostalgia for times gone by. This was noticeable in the obvious disillusionment with the Euro currency and the European Union. I went to meet survivors of a World War Two destruction of a district in central Rome by aerial bombing to get their perspective on whether times had changed for the better, and I was deeply struck by the scene I discovered. My story is here.
When Ignazio Marino was elected mayor of Rome, one of his first actions was to crack down on mafia families that had the seaside near the capital in their grip.
It will shock and sadden you to learn that renting a beach chair near Rome means giving money to the mafia: http://t.co/5VEch1DZKL
— James Ledbetter (@jledbetter) July 18, 2013
This is my story on how efforts to tackle the racket intensified after the daylight murders of Francesco “Little Moustache” Antonini and Giovanni “Black Rat” Galleoni.
I was struck by the political activism of many school students in Italy. I visited a Rome school, occupied by students with the support of many of its teachers in protest at education cuts. It was the latest of over a dozen schools to be shut down in a wave of demonstrations that autumn.
Chalk, blackboard… teargas? Italy protests start at school http://t.co/0kcO7Kb2
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) November 18, 2012
After summer, each year the protests would arrive with the falling leaves. Italy has repeatedly cut its education budget despite spending just 4.5% of GDP on it, one of the lowest levels in the OECD.
Flanked by riot police, Rome high school students protest against education cuts. Banners read “hands off our future” pic.twitter.com/q9ZZnD1LQx
— Naomi O’Leary ⚡️ (@NaomiOhReally) November 15, 2013
Reporting on Italian politics for Reuters, I found it impossible to follow the shifting power struggles without learning a unique vocabulary: Italian political slang. Here is a guide I wrote to this colourful lexicon. It was published by The Telegraph among others.
— Vincenzo Scarpetta (@LondonerVince) May 16, 2013
Soccer violence and the far right
A brutal attack on visiting Tottenham Hotspur fans in Rome followed months of demonstrations by the far-right. Tottenham have a large contingent of Jewish fans and witnesses told Italian media that masked men armed with knives and baseball bats shouted “Jews, Jews” as they laid siege to a pub.
The extreme right activity had risen across Europe as the economic crisis bit, not least in Greece with its anti-immigrant Golden Dawn.
Italy soccer attack stokes fears of neo-fascist violence http://t.co/F0XED3FU
— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) November 23, 2012
In the long tail of the financial crisis, growing economic inequality became evident in some colourful ways. One of these was an initiative in Italy to re-train unemployed people to work as butlers for the super-rich. I reported on the story for Reuters. It was used by the Chicago Tribune among others.
— Alessandro Speciale (@aspeciale) May 16, 2014
Vatican power struggles
A story I wrote for Reuters about the final interview given by a cardinal before his death was used by the New York Times. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini criticised the Vatican and described the Church as behind the times.
— Manya Brachear (@TribSeeker) September 3, 2012
Pope Benedict was a historic pontiff in several ways: both in his resignation, and in being the first pope to communicate with his followers through social media. This is an inside view into how his Twitter account was run from a computer in a locked room kept specifically for the purpose.
First tweeting pope remains silent over resignation: Obviously keen to avoid any leak of his resignation – which… http://t.co/OjpSAEVP
— Social Media 331 (@socialmedia331) February 16, 2013
The Vatican’s response to trolls? “We are receiving tweets that I consider not worthy of a human person,” said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Violence against women
Inequality between women and men is an enduring issue in Italy, manifested in a pay gap, unequal distribution of power, and violence against women. This was made horrifyingly clear when a vote to ratify a treaty against gender-based violence was overshadowed by the brutal murder of a teenage girl who was burned alive by her boyfriend. My story is here.
I wrote this story after visiting the town of L’Aquila, five years since it was devastated by an earthquake that killed over 300 people. The centre was frozen at the time of the disaster. Students’ desks scattered with books were visible through collapsed walls; toothbrushes still visible in a bathroom sink.
Rubble blocks the entrance of a shut church in the historical centre of L’Aquila, vegetation beginning to encroach pic.twitter.com/YPCXKPXi5Y
— Naomi O’Leary ⚡️ (@NaomiOhReally) April 5, 2014
The stalled reconstruction was disheartening, but worse was the lack of effort to avoid such a disaster recurring.
Though Italy lies on an active fault line, buildings continue to be constructed without anti-earthquake precautions. A survey of school buildings found just 9 percent were built to withstand a quake. Italy’s scientists warn further disasters are inevitable.
Five years ago an earthquake devastated the town of L’Aquila. This is my account of why the risk is greater than ever http://t.co/XlR1b2JIaR
— Naomi O’Leary ⚡️ (@NaomiOhReally) April 5, 2014
My story was picked up by Scientific American among others.