During an interview this weekend with Philadelphia Inquirer culture reporter Stephan Salisbury, Vatican blogger Rocco Palmo whipped out his iPad and canceled his flight to Rome.
Palmo had planned to be near the Vatican for the next two weeks of historic doings, but the cost of the trip proved too much. “The hotels!” he exclaims. “The media people going over are getting hosed!”
“People in Rome were calling me up this morning saying, ‘If you don’t come now you’re finished on this beat,” Palmo said in a phone interview with Poynter Sunday night. “It wasn’t out of intimidation but it was out of a concern with me for my work: ‘You’ve worked for this, you’ve earned it to be here.’ ”
But Palmo, who avidly chronicles Vatican personnel moves for his blog “Whispers in the Loggia” from his parents’ basement in Philadelphia, decided he couldn’t swing the costs, which he originally estimated at about $5,000, then bumped up to $8,000. Airfares are now through the roof, he said, and he doesn’t think he could make the trip work for less than five figures. “It’s not gonna make me any smarter going over,” he said, “but even trying will make me a hell of a lot poorer.”
Palmo also questioned the utility of covering the conclave on the scene: He expects cell phone service to be overwhelmed in St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of the new pope, and he may end up watching the big moment on TV in his room just so he can file.
Indeed, what Palmo keeps referring to as the first “social media conclave” means not just more competition but that he might be able to suss out developments better from home. (Today on Whispers, he writes about a cassock shop that’s “one of Rome’s great stakeout spots.”) “Here I can just deal with the purity of the story,” he said. He plans to take in a flower show and watch Phillies spring-training games as well.
The announcement of a new Pope is a story “that lasts three seconds,” Palmo said, adding that “what matters is what happens once he starts hitting the ground.”
He noted he made his name as a reporter by breaking the story of Benedict XVI’s first major personnel appointment.
But would he go anyway, were some Vatican-crazed donor to come through with a check? “If I were practical, I would have hung it up a long time ago,” Palmo said. He doesn’t take donations from American bishops or Vatican officials. His donors are “people who realize the church matters.”