Czech media can brace itself for new competition
The Czech media can brace itself for new competition; this time from the internet. With the number of internet users in the Czech Republic growing steadily - some 30% of the population of ten million are online regularly - the Czech web portal Centrum.cz, launched a new multi-media news server on Tuesday. Called "Aktualne.cz", which roughly translates into 'current affairs', it says it's the media of the 21st century as it provides news not just in text but also in audio and video.
Its goal is ambitious - to become the fastest and most trustworthy source of information in Czech in the country and win over 1.5 million users. To find out how it aims to achieve this goal, I had a chat with the head of the team and former editor-in-chief of the country's leading business and finance newspaper Hospodarske Noviny, Roman Gallo, and Centrum CEO, Ondrej Tomek, at the launch party on Monday night.
Ondrej Tomek: "Firstly, we will really try to be very fast. Secondly, it will be a multi-media internet server, which means that we will include videos and info-graphics. Thirdly, we will be a serious internet news server."
Could you describe how it works, how the news is put out onto the web?
Roman Gallo: "We have two different teams. One team monitors the latest news on television and news agencies such as CNN, BBC, or Al Jazeera, and forwards it to the experienced editor, who then decides whether it's important or interesting for us. The other team is made of reporters who create our own original news, i.e. investigative reporters and others."
Where did the journalists in your team come from? In a country as small as the Czech Republic, where do you find several dozen experienced reporters?
Ondrej Tomek: "At this moment we have over 60 reporters. Many of them are print journalists mainly from Hospodarske Noviny and Mlada fronta Dnes [another leading daily]. Over fifteen of them are journalists who have been in the profession for a long time - over ten or fifteen years."
Roman Gallo: "We would like to be the fastest but we don't want to be the fastest to report on every single event but on the important events. This means that we are not going to publish traffic accidents on the front page as the main article."
Ondrej Tomek: "...and our department is also using database information such as CVs or more information on important subjects. For example, if we write something about Prime Minister Paroubek, readers can easily click [on an icon in the article] to read his CV and find out what he does and what background he has."
I believe you are also working with partners...
Ondrej Tomek: "Yes. We have two main partners - Ceska Televize [the public broadcaster Czech TV] and Reuters."
Roman Gallo: "We are cooperating with Czech TV because they are able to deliver actual videos for us from the Czech Republic. We are working with Reuters because we are unable to have our own original foreign videos. So, whenever we cannot get the quality broadcast that we want to provide ourselves, we will get it through the partnership with the media companies or other companies."
On the eve of the launch, you had the project 'christened' by 'godfathers' - the foreign minister, prime minister, the leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, as well as the outgoing deputy prime minister for economic affairs. That will have people wondering how much influence there will be...
"We offered Mr Topolanek [leader of the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats] and Mr Paroubek [Social Democrat and current Prime Minister] a different kind of interview. They would come to our studio once a month for the next six months until the elections [general parliamentary elections]. Mr Topolanek would get thirty minutes to interview the prime minister as a reporter. After that, the roles will be switched. They said they will play this game with us and it's going to be interesting for our users and readers."
Which means that you also have a radio and television studio?
Roman Gallo: "We have a small radio and a small TV studio but they are not to compete with the classic radio or television stations. We have them to be able to prepare special video and audio reports and when we have some investigative news, we would like to cover it in text and also in video and audio."
One thing that I think is lacking somewhat in Czech media reports is political correctness. I was wondering whether you discuss this with the rest of the team of journalists...
Roman Gallo: "We would like to build this political correctness and journalistic responsibility but it could be difficult to fulfil this goal.
May I ask why?
Roman Gallo: "The quality of journalism in the Czech Republic is not very good. I have been working in the Czech media for the last sixteen years and I teach journalism at Charles University. There is an absolutely new generation of journalists, who are starting their professional career sixteen years after the fall of communism. So, there is a lack of management experience in the leadership of editorial teams and that results in varied quality of the media in this country."
How is all of this being financed?
Ondrej Tomek: "Aktualne.cz belongs to a division of the Centrum.cz portal called MediaCentrum. It's fully financed from the operating cash flow of Centrum.cz and will continue to be financed by Centrum.cz."
You can find the new internet news site at www.aktualne.cz.