27 February 2023

Interview with Luciana Coluccello, war reporter for LA7 Italy

Coming from a small town in the Salento region, not far from Santa Maria di Leuca, Luciana Coluccello traveled a long and complex journey to fulfill her dream of becoming an esteemed war reporter for leading national newspapers. She embarked on this journey through Rome, Milan, and Afghanistan after graduating from Luiss with a degree in Political Science, and Institutional and Political Communication. Her thesis entitled “Why is Italy in Afghanistan?” won the International Prize for Journalism ‘Maria Grazia Cutuli,’ which was awarded by Il Corriere della Sera and the Maria Grazia Cutuli Foundation. In 2019, she won the 16th edition of ‘Premio Giornalista di Puglia – Michele Campione’, in the ‘news’ section, thanks to her investigation “Cocaine accessible to all”, aired on ‘Matrix’, a program on Canale 5.

After graduating, Luciana Coluccello completed two fundamental internships with ‘Report’, a program on Rai3, and, later, in the foreign editorial office of ‘Il Corriere della Sera’. In 2015, she worked on Tv2000 in the program ‘Beati Voi’, hosted by Alessandro Sortino, and later became a correspondent of ‘La Gabbia Open’, on La7. In 2018, she moved to Mediaset (‘Matrix’ and ‘Diritto e Rovescio’), and in 2020, she relocated to Rai1 working as a correspondent for the TV program ‘Oggi è un altro giorno’. Luciana Coluccello followed her dream of working in contexts of crisis and war, spending long periods in Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, until August 2021, when she decided to work as a freelancer at the time when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. For almost a year now, he has been reporting on the war in Ukraine, where she continues to work. In recognition of the quality and value of her journalism, her work is aired on LA7 in popular programs such as ‘Piazzapulita’. Luciana’s story is one of great success that can inspire many young people not to give up and pursue their passions. We spoke to her about it on the phone while she was in Kyiv as she was about to leave for the front line.


How and why did you decide to become a journalist?

I’m a very curious person who asks and has always asked thousands of questions. Journalism, for me, is continuous research, a constant push toward new knowledge, and in-depth study. It is about exploring an interest in what I do not know. If you are a journalist, you never stop (or should never stop) studying. However, now that I have developed greater self-awareness, I can say that my choice to pursue this job is also linked to me not knowing how to stand still. I always want to be on the move. I get a kick out of interfacing with other worlds and cultures. An everlasting need to explore.


Was there ever a time when you thought to yourself, ‘perhaps journalism is my job’?

Yes. It was during my Erasmus exchange in Spain when I studied at the Faculty of Comunicación y Periodismo in Salamanca. The radio journalism course I took was one-third classroom-based and two-thirds in an actual radio station. I immediately realized that I was suited to this job because everything came very naturally to me.


What led you to choose Luiss?

I had heard good things about the Faculty of Political Science, which was the area in which I wanted to pursue my studies and specialize. Discovering Radio Luiss confirmed my choice. From the moment I set foot on Viale Romania until I graduated, Radio Luiss was my favorite place. I designed and hosted program with other colleagues and my first journalistic experience in the field of foreign affairs was precisely a program that I created with a colleague who was as passionate about Strategic Studies as I was. It was called “Voci dal mondo”.


What did your experience at Luiss leave you with?

It gave me the fundamental knowledge and know-how that make me a more confident and self-aware person. I had good professors whom I respected and who knew how to encourage and nurture the will to delve deeper into a discipline that I was particularly passionate about, even beyond class time. In short, Luiss also taught me to strengthen my ambition and determination to achieve my goals. Group work exercises were crucial in stimulating the spirit of teamwork and elevating its potential. On the other hand, they also created healthy competition with my ‘competing’ peers.


How did you develop a career in journalism?

After a postgraduate internship in the editorial office of ‘E – Il Mensile’, Emergency’s newspaper, I did another internship in the foreign editorial office of Il Corriere della Sera. I got there because my thesis in Strategic Studies had won the International Prize for Journalism ‘Maria Grazia Cutuli’. In 2015, I got my first television contract and since then, I never left television. It taught me the power of synthesis and of good storytelling through images. Above all, it equipped me with the tools to work well today even outside a newsroom. Until 2021, between Tv2000, Mediaset, LA7, and Rai1, I dealt with socio-economic issues, immigration, and Italian news in general.


Your true passion has always been in Foreign Affairs…

My passion for foreign affairs was born at Luiss during the Strategic Studies course at the time, led by Lucio Caracciolo, editor of Limes. I was particularly interested in Afghanistan and the war so I continued to study it and follow developments in the field even after graduating when I was already working in television covering other news. For years and on several occasions, I found myself planning to leave for the field and then having to postpone for some reason. Until 2021, when I decided to go freelance.


And what happened?

I took a training course on working as a journalist in crisis contexts to get the basics on ballistic protection, tactical medicine training, first aid, and much more. I left in the fall of 2021 to report on Afghanistan returning under the Taliban regime. I reported on the humanitarian crisis, the plight of women, and the contradictions of a country that the West had effectively abandoned after twenty years of war on the ground. From that moment on, I never stopped. On 24 February Russia invaded Ukraine. After finishing a report on the Isis threat in Afghanistan for Sky TG24, I immediately left for the front. It was March 2022; I was in Kharkiv, a city in the East of Ukraine, and 40km from the Russian border that was constantly under siege. You could count the number of journalists from all over the world on one hand. Often, they would stay in the city for a day and then travel to safer cities. Instead, I chose to settle in a bunker in Kharkiv. I stayed there for about 20 days, and during that time, I had offers to work for many newspapers and TV stations including CNN. I chose to work almost exclusively for Piazzapulita aired on La7, because it is the news program that has always exploited my stories best.


Is there something in particular that drove you to choose the job of a war reporter?

Wars and conflicts, for some reason, have always piqued my curiosity. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘war reporter’ just because that is what I have been doing mainly in the last year. Firstly, because I don’t like to set too many boundaries. Secondly, because, in general, I’m interested in reporting on crises of any kind such as a population that is forced to migrate due to the dramatic effects of climate change or the forgotten suburbs of our country. But I will admit that the accounts of life in a country at war particularly intrigue me, also from a human point of view. I’m interested in delving into the humanity of the individual in the extreme conditions and cruelty of war. The constant facing of death is profound and hard to find in everyday life. In fact, when you return from the front, sometimes it feels like living in a faded reality compared to the one you just experienced and continue to carry within you. As Oriana Fallaci would say; when in war, you are always on the stage. You are never a spectator because even if you are on a hotel terrace drinking tea, a grenade could come. From a more strictly journalistic point of view, in war, there is no need to chase stories: everything happens right in front of your eyes.


Was there never a moment when you thought you weren’t good enough?

I’m very demanding of myself, and even when I get praise, I always think that I could have done better. In all honesty, since I chose to be a freelancer, I have never felt that I wasn’t good enough. Because it’s me who chooses where to go, what to report, and above all, within what timeframe. As mentioned earlier, the freelancing doesn’t mean working alone. TV work is always a team effort. I give instructions to the editors who frame my news story. If I then find that they cut a scene, because it was considered redundant, I know that in most cases, they made the right choice. I trust those who work with me because they are the first viewers of that reportage.

Ironically, there were times when I worked in the editorial office and was sent as a correspondent, and I didn’t feel up to it. Because I was asked to report a news story that didn’t feel mine or I was not sent to report a news story that I found, it can happen. This is what journalism should be about. To look for a news story that the reporter has in mind beforehand. The new stories that never knew how to write and always ran away from.


What is something that makes you proud of doing your job?

When I interview someone to write their story, I always try to be very careful and keep in mind that the person is trusting me. They are handing over important, sometimes confidential aspects of their life to me.  I, as a journalist, have a responsibility; something I never forget. Also, a good dose of empathy is also essential in our work. Sometimes you have to know how to tiptoe around people’s lives.


What are the key characteristics to be a war reporter?

Being clear-headed, and empathetic but, at the same time, also having the ability to maintain a distance. Because we are reporters called to report on that event and are not activists. Doing plenty of research because it is fundamental to understand the historical and cultural context in which we’re going to work. There is no room for superficiality. Every word must be chosen with caution.


Have you given anything up for your job?

Like many jobs, this one also has compromises and sacrifices. You often spend a lot of time away from your family and partner, and that is not always easy. But I must admit I’m lucky. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who understood my passion and never made me regret my choice. I sometimes feel a little guilty when I’m away for a long time. But I feel reassured knowing that I always come back to those with whom I can share the immense fulfillment of being able to do the job that I dreamed of.


What was your best experience in Ukraine?

I lived in a bunker with Ukrainian volunteers for a fortnight. I wouldn’t call it a beautiful experience, but it was the most valuable. It was very intense, sometimes tiring but valuable because it gave me the tools to understand the country at war that I was about to report on. Some elements can’t be conveyed in books. You can only fully understand them by being there and observing.


What was the worst moment?

The attack on Kramatorsk railway station on 8 April 2022. That was my first real encounter with the atrocities in war. I also consider myself a survivor in some way. I was not in that part of the station by a few minutes. This experience took its toll on me, and one which I still struggle to talk about in any detail. I managed to do so in a book, which came out on the first anniversary of the war with Piemme, Mondadori Group.


What distinguishes the war in Ukraine from the others?

The consequences of war and its aftermath, people being forced to flee, families splitting up, and fathers staying behind to fight, are all very similar. This war is only closer to us because of the perceived threat, geography, and nuclear power that invaded another sovereign state.


Is there a journalist who inspires you and if so, why?

Milena Gabanelli, for television journalism, has been a model for many years. She taught me journalistic rigor but, at the same time, the need to learn how to report on investigations and complex concepts in a clear, effective, and understandable way for all. As for writing, I have always loved Oriana Fallaci and Ryszard Kapuscinski.


What advice would you give to those who wish to pursue your career pathway?

Believe in it and don’t let yourself be put down by those who say that this profession is dead. It is the exact opposite, and it is proved by the fact that new tools (i.e., podcasts) to report news stories are emerging. Those who truly believe can make it provided that they undertake a rigorous training path, which can be in a newsroom if you’re lucky enough to have a trainee contract, or in a journalism school. Journalists do not improvise. In this profession, we are often self-centered. We must always remember that whatever medium we use, be it television, radio, or a social media channel, the focus is not on us, but on the story we are telling. Loading a story with unnecessary emphasis or throwing in unwanted opinions is detrimental to the credibility of the news story and journalist.


What are your goals for the future?

I feel I’m on the right track, so for the time being, my short-term goal is not to lose my bearings. As for my medium and long-term goals, for the time being, I’ll keep them to myself (laughs).


Interwied by Emidio Piccione.