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18 March 2023

That poor NYU student has learnt the dark side of “everything is copy”

She wrote a piece about how she’d hated her semester abroad in Florence. And now the internet has come for her.

By Marie Le Conte

Complaining about the drawbacks of living in Venice feels like whining about your diamond shoes not quite fitting right. Still, I lived in Venice for a while and I both loved it and hated it – because it is, at the end of the day, a city, and all cities have their advantages and drawbacks.

I hated that bars opened and shut whenever they wanted, meaning that you could not reliably make plans to meet friends there. I hated that said plans were never really made more than a day in advance, because Italians like to take life as it comes, and that they would sometimes be cancelled with hours to go, for reasons as flimsy as “eh, it’s raining”.

I hated its Mediterranean approach to drinking – it could only happen on terraces – because Venice simply doesn’t have Sicilian weather, and if it’s eight degrees outside you should be able to sit inside. I hated that it still viewed the internet with some suspicion, in 2022, meaning that you often had to turn up somewhere in person to find out about it.

[See also: Italy is too large to save but cannot be left to fail. Eventually, something has to give]

I could go on. Christ, as friends found out when I got back, I could go on. I hold no hatred in my heart for Venetians because they cannot help being who they are; I just can’t help being who I am either. We are too different.

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If we are not friends, this is probably the first you’re hearing about this. Until now, I’d only ever hinted at those annoyances, both online and to acquaintances. Receiving the full, no holds barred rant was a gift only meant for those close to me. (This is, I should note, not the full, no holds barred rant. If it were, I would have needed a long-read slot.)

Editorial concerns about my mental well-being aside, the reason why I have mostly kept this to myself until now is that I have been burned before. I am 31 and I grew up online: I know that splaying your thoughts, dreams and feelings across the internet doesn’t always end well. It’s a lesson I learnt the hard way.

I worry that Stacia Datskovska is learning it right about now. The NYU student wrote a piece for Insider this week – which I am not going to link to – detailing the many ways in which she’d hated her semester abroad in Florence. Some of the complaints were fair game: there are few worlds in which living with seven other people is anything but hellish.

Others were… well, decide for yourself. She called Florentines “hostile, inconsiderate, and preposterous”. She sussed out, probably correctly, that Italians loathe contemporary casual clothing, so “started wearing American-brand athleisure, Nike Air Max 97s, and oversize hoodies”, leading to people rolling their eyes at her in the street. In short: she did not have a good time.

The internet, on the other hand, is now having a ball. The piece went viral and got covered, breathlessly, by other outlets dying for some traffic. “‘Obnoxious’ student mocked for scathing review of studying in Florence”, said the Mirror; “‘Entitled’ American student sparks backlash for ‘despising’ every moment she studied abroad in Florence”, said Yahoo News. On and on goes the merry-go-round.

[See also: The cost of living crisis has changed friendship]

Datskovska is a journalism student and has clearly already internalised one of our trade’s most sacred rules: everything is copy. The only problem with that attitude is that, when the esteemed Nora Ephron popularised it, the internet did not exist.

“Everything is copy” is a sentiment that at heart only deals with one side of the equation. It tells you that if something happens to you, you should be able and allowed to write about it. It gives you control over your own narrative. It’s about power and ownership.

“Everything is copy” falls apart once it goes online, because posting something on the internet means relinquishing that control. Analogue journalism had a series of fail-safes: you could choose the editor you wrote for and the publication they worked at, you could pick a readership and direct your writing at them. It could go wrong because everything can in theory go wrong, but you had some part to play in your fate and the fate of your narrative.

Writing online is a gamble: you throw a coin over your shoulder and can’t predict where it’ll end up. You just have to hope for the best. It may be cathartic to bare it all on the internet but there are now more risks involved; maybe no one will read it, or maybe your words will travel halfway across the world and be pored over by hundreds of thousands of people unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Everything is copy, but every wrong move could be your last. Older and more experienced editors should act as custodians but many don’t. For every writer trying to pay rent there is someone above them worried they’ll get made redundant if they cannot magic enough clicks out of thin air. Editors encourage coin tosses because they know they need the win.

Like louche photographers encouraging models to undo another few buttons of their shirt, they welcome and encourage personal writing because they know rubbernecking never goes out of style. It may take hours or years for those models to regret having taken their tops off, but it’s always too late.

I found Venice maddening and mostly kept quiet about it, because I know what it feels like to share too much of yourself with too many people. Datskovska should get there soon enough, and others will surely follow. It shouldn’t be like this but well, what can you do? If everything is copy, then you can be too.

[See also: Dating apps are ruining everything fun about romance]

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