Monday 12 June 1995
Stille was one of the most famous Italian journalists of the last 50 years and one of the best editors of Italy's most authoritative newspaper, the Corriere della Sera of Milan. In Italy, he was recognised as the best of the Italian correspondents in the United States and a key point of reference for anyone wishing to understand that country.
In 1958, when he was first offered the post of editor of the Corriere della Sera, he chose to stay in the US. When the offer was made again, in 1987, he accepted it. In Italy, he fell in love with the country and with Milan, but his heart and soul remained in the US. After running the paper for five years, in 1992 he returned to his old post as the Corriere's New York correspondent.
He was born Mikhail (''Misha'') Kamenetzky in 1919, in Moscow. The name Ugo Stille was coined with a friend, Giame Pintor, when working on a student magazine at Rome University, and is based on a translating error of a verse by Rilke. After the revolution, the Kamenetzkys, who were Jewish, left Russia. At first they emigrated to Riga, in Latvia, where Stille's sister was born, and then to Italy. After Naples and Formia, the family settled in Rome.
In 1938, racial laws had been enacted in Italy and Jews were no longer allowed to work as journalists. Reluctantly, the Kamenetzkys obtained visas for the US. Misha Kamenetzky obtained his own visa only after the intercession of a young prelate, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.
In New York, Kamenetzky was enlisted in the army, where he became a member of the PWB, the Psychological Warfare Branch. After the Allied landing in Sicily, he was put in charge of Radio Palermo, the first free radio station on the European mainland. "We were all young boys who'd grown up under Fascism, but we understood what democracy meant when we saw Sergeant Kamenetzky receive a colonel without removing his feet from his desk,'' recalled one of the former staffers at the radio station.
Radio Palermo moved with the Allies to Naples and Milan, where Kamenetzky was asked to work as a stringer for the Corriere della Sera when he returned to America. He decided to adopt his old pen-name in memory of his friend Pintor, who had been killed while fighting for the Resistance in 1943.
The first report by Ugo Stille appeared in the Corriere on 17 January 1946 and during the next half-century a visit to his office, first in the New York Times building, later in his home in Greenwich Village, was a must for any Italian intellectual, politician or writer in the US. His office was so full of papers, books and pipes that no one was surprised when it caught fire one day. Stille only worried about his precious books.
Stille was always on top of events, well in advance of diplomats and his colleagues. He even discovered that Trieste would be handed back to Italy before the Italian government was informed of the fact. He insisted his scoops were just the results of hard work and a simple technique: first you do your background research, then you ask the right person the right questions, giving the impression that you know more than you really do. If he confirms your hunches, you ask other people the same questions. And then you return to your first interlocutor. This way, claimed Stille, piece by piece, you put the whole puzzle together.
But, "I hate scoops," he said. "A news analysis is much better. It's much better to do some thinking."
When Ugo Stille became editor of the Corriere della Sera it was a very delicate moment for the newspaper, which had been severely discredited after its owners were involved in the scandal regarding the masonic lodge P2. Stille took it upon himself to rebuild the paper. ''The authority of a great newspaper,'' he wrote in his first editorial, ''its influence on national events, depend on its ability to be the nation's 'mirror', to reflect all of its components, to capture the diversified aspects of a pluralistic context, to perceive its changes."
Stille convinced some of Italy's most authoritative journalists to join the Corriere and hired some promising young reporters. Under his direction, the paper regained its credibility and its sales.
Mikhail Kamenetzky (Ugo Stille), journalist: born Moscow 3 December 1919; Editor, Corriere della Sera 1987-92; married 1948 Elizabeth Bogert (died 1993; two children); died New York 2 June 1995.
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