A new position on the Czech media market

Brian Kenety

In this week’s One on One we talk to Brian Kenety, the editor of the English language edition of a newly launched website which is seeking to carve out a niche in the field of politics and business news. The new kid on the local media block made its official debut at the start of the month.

Brian Kenety
CzechPosition, or ČeskáPozice, is an internet news server in two language versions, Czech and English. It believes it can pull in pay per view subscribers through a mix of inside and exclusive news and business stories. The concept also promises a more independent stance than offered by many Czech publications. When I met up with Brian Kenety, I asked him how he landed up in journalism and in Prague in the first place.

“Well, it’s a bit of a shaggy dog story because it is something of a family business. My grandfather was actually everything from a print setter to a mid-Western editor of a newspaper chain, not necessarily in that order. He was very passionate and had a fiery temper. But my grandmother was also a copy editor for the Chicago Tribune. And my mother wanted to be a journalist and ended up being an English teacher at High School. But she also sat through a vetting process to become an agent for the CIA. I am not making that up. But she had lived in so many places because of my grandfather going from job to job within journalism that it took forever to vet her. And then came along me and my brother and the rest is history.”

And your arrival in the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia as it still may have been, how did that happen?

“When I was at university I had a friend called Peter. He never bothered to correct us, he was actually called Petr. He had left Communist Czechoslovakia as a teenager. I had another good friend who had Czech heritage and he was studying the language, distance learning. So I was quite aware of the country itself and you could say it was in the back of my consciousness. After graduating, I was working in broadcast television in Washington DC. Meanwhile, this friend of mine had gone to Czechoslovakia and was sending letters back about all these amazing tales of what life was like here. And so it was on the brain. But I worked for a few years in New York for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and also for the leading Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, at the United Nations building.

“But having studied international relations, American foreign policy, the sum total of my experience abroad was a two week trip to Ireland and the standard three-month Eurorail back packing rite of passage of every American college student. I always regretted not having lived abroad or studied abroad. So I quit my job to set out to for Eastern Europe. And when I was in Prague it was the Zlatý Golem film festival. I still had my press tags and got into all these amazing events. And suddenly in the old Globe book store I saw an advert for an apartment exchange. There was a Czech student, a pianist, who wanted to study at the conservatory in New York. And I gave a ring and I got his mom. She didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Czech. I rang again, again, and again until finally I connected with him. This was at the end of my three month Eurorail back packing trip. A week after I got back to New York I had suddenly arranged this exchange and I turned tail and moved here blind. That was in 1995.

“I was here for a year and was working for the Czech Press Agency (ČTA), which does not exist any longer. In fact, it had quite a short life. I went to Bulgaria, I was stringing for the Inter Press Service, and also went to Kosovo and Macedonia during the war. And I was named their Brussels correspondent and moved to cover the EU. Again, I still planned coming back to New York but ended up in Prague. I worked for Prague Business Journal, also for Radio Prague by the way, and then Russian news agency Interfax, and then I landed a job with Česká Pozice/Czech Position.”

Could you describe the concept? It’s a new concept on the Czech market…

“Yes, CzechPosition, or ČeskáPozice, is founded on the idea that we are squarely in the digital age. Most High School students today have never known a time when the internet did not exist. Most people now get their news from the internet. And this publication, or publications, never existed in paper form. So it is not a case of trying to adapt to a new medium, we are new media. And, by the way, we only launched on December 1, so just a few days ago.”

István Lékó, photo: Euro
The idea is to be a more independent medium on the Czech market…I think that has something to do with the editor and his experience on some of the previous publications he worked for. Can you explain what you are doing there?

“The founder and editor in chief, István Léko, is a Hungarian Slovak. He studied here in the 1980’s and he got immediately into journalism. He was at the Tyden magazine for a number of years as an economics correspondent and then for some 12 years he was editor in chief of euro magazine. And like a lot of the media here there is a powerful group behind it and, depending on whom you talk to, there is a question about how independent a voice it has. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but he took out a private loan with the idea of being his own man and being beholden to no special interests.”

How will it finance itself because in the internet age it is difficult to get people to pay for anything on the internet? How will it work out that way?

“Very true. There are a number of models around the world that are being experimented with. The Guardian newspaper has no pay wall at all and they are very successful but that is because they bought the classified ads business that generates a lot of revenue for them. At the other end of the spectrum there is the Financial Times which some years ago put up a pay wall and the advertisers cried bloody murder because suddenly the subscription rates plummeted dramatically. But the people who kept subscribing were in fact the elite, the political and business elite who have the kind of money that advertisers are interested in. As far as ČeskáPozice, or CzechPosition, is concerned at the moment, all the content is free. But there will be a VIP service and, let’s say, the hard core financial, economic and insider news will be behind that pay wall. And everything will eventually migrate there, it will be archived.”

The target audience is who exactly? As you say it comes out in English and Czech. Who is the target audience? Is there one or is it everyone?

“Well, we have two masters so to speak. There is the Czech audience and Mr. Léko has said that they are not going to be a paper of record. They are not going to be Mladá fronta Dnes, the most widely read daily. They are trying to deliver exclusive, inside information. On the English language side we have to do a bit more just to be a well rounded publication. The people who are coming to our pages are not for the most part Czech speakers and will need more explanation and will want more diary stories. The aim is not to leave no stone unturned but to choose the stones very carefully.”

And who are the competitors?

“On the Czech side, you could say it is the investigative weekly, Respekt, and existing internet portal, Aktualne.cz and perhaps Lidové noviny, which is something of a paper for the elite, though I do not like to use that word. On the English side, we obviously thought there was a hole. The community is well served on the internet for listings and cultural events by Prague tv, and expats.cz or The Prague Post. But in terms of news you get from news agencies like Dow Jones, Bloomberg, or Reuters, they are not so well served. Certainly, that is the theory.”