Nick Carey - former Radio Prague man reflects on 11 years in Czech Republic

Nick Carey

Today's guest on One on One is Nick Carey, who was a reporter here at Radio Prague between 1999 and 2001. Nick has since moved into financial journalism and, after over a decade in the Czech Republic, is about to leave for pastures new. When we met at a café just around the corner from our studios, Nick Carey recalled his very first day at Radio Prague.

"I didn't even know it was going to be my first day. I didn't get the job I applied for, but I was told that I should freelance and after six weeks of freelancing I was offered a full-time job.

"But the very first day that I was told to come in David Vaughan, the editor in chief, said, come in, have a look and Libor Kubik - the head of department at the time - will show you around, show you the ropes, and then you can come in another day and start the job.

"And I came in to the office and Libor handed me a sheaf of articles from the Czech News Agency and said I want you to do this story, which was about the Czechs about to join NATO at that time, in early '99. And I said, oh, you want me to write the story? He said, yeah. How long does it have to be? He said, about three minutes, and I had no idea how long that was.

"And I said, who's going to read it? He said, you are. How long do I have? He looked at his watch very calmly and said, oh about an hour and 43 minutes. At that point I almost quit, I almost walked out of the building.

"I went out into the corridor. At that point I was a heavy smoker and I had about four or five cigarettes. Then I came in and managed to persuade somebody at the Russian Embassy to talk to me. And never looked back."

Did you have at the beginning, as I certainly did, studio nerves?

"My studio nerves were the worst. I think I'm probably legendary at Radio Prague for constantly getting lost in the middle of a sentence..."

And swearing.

"Yeah, fortunately most of the swearing was cut out. But yeah, I think some spectacular swearing was cut out in my days at Radio Prague."

What about the people that you met? Obviously over two or three years you would have met hundreds of people - any particular interviewees stand out as being particularly interesting?

"I did manage to get FW de Klerk a couple of times. He was at Forum 2000 which was organised by the former president, Vaclav Havel. I'd always wanted to meet FW de Klerk because he'd won the Nobel Peace Prize for dismantling apartheid. He was the best speaker at Forum 2000.

"Both times I spoke to him he gave me about a minute and 12 seconds of his time but gave me several very concise, flawless answers to everything I asked."

Any "little people", so to speak, any ordinary people who you met in your time at Radio Prague make a big impression on you?

"I think some of the people I had to meet on the street for vox pops. Some people would be willing to talk - most people don't want to talk on the street. But some people would talk to the point where...I think there was one woman who I had 12 minutes of, just going on and on about how she angry she was with the government.

"So some very interesting people on the street. Most of them, though, were people who never actually appeared on Radio Prague because they spent most of the time swearing."

And what about figures you may have met in public life who were disappointing or annoying, or even unpleasant?

"Maybe looking back I was a bit disappointed by Milos Zeman, the prime minister from 1998 to 2002. He was famous amongst Czech journalists for being very rude in Czech. But he was always very polite in English, so I was disappointed that there was never anything juicy from any interview I had with him."

You're now a print journalist, Nick. Looking back at radio, what would you say are the particular advantages or disadvantages, or even challenges, of working in radio?

"I think the biggest advantage is you do get to hear people talking, in their own words. With print media there's a great deal of faith that the journalist's ability to print what people are saying. So you get a real feel for people and for their mood or the way that they feel about something.

"Print journalism I think has the advantage that you are able to go into more detail about an issue. I think that with radio journalism...there were so many stories I had that were three minutes long and could have been three hours.

"And the major challenges I think for radio journalism are always how to bring the story to people. Because you do have to boil it down, and that's a disadvantage that very few people can really overcome. But when they do it's absolutely wonderful."

It's almost four years to the day since you left Radio Prague. Since then you've been a print journalist, as I say. Are there enough things happening in Prague to keep an ambitious young journalist like yourself busy?

"Not for me, but that's because I wanted to see more of the world. I think there are plenty of things for journalists here, if they want to look around for them. I've spent much of the last year and a half travelling around the Balkans for my current job, but more because I wanted to see more of the world.

"And that's another reason why I'm leaving now. I'm very curious - my appetite hasn't been slaked by the Czech Republic."

And about living here in general, as a've been here for a decade or so - how has Prague changed over the years? What are the biggest changes you've seen?

"I think a lot of consumerism. I see a lot of Western shops, Western chains, a lot more emphasis on showing that you make money and having the latest gadgetry or the latest clothes. To a certain extent even more so than in the West - the Czechs have taken to consumerism like fish to water.

"At times I do miss the early days when these chains weren't here. I felt things were a little more real before."

Would you say perhaps that Prague has become a little too civilised?

"I don't know if I would say that...I think, certainly it's easier if you come from the West to get the things that you want, in shops. Whether it's become more civilised, I don't know.

"I think there are more challenges for people now, particularly for, say, the elderly. When I first came here you'd find that somebody would get up for elderly people on the trams. Now I see young Czech kids who act like kids back in Britain, who don't get up for old people on trams. And I find myself irritated in a way that Czechs do, as well. So I'm not sure if it's more civilised."

So all things considered, eleven years - have you enjoyed it here?

"For the most part, yes. There's an awful lot I'm going to miss. Professionally I'm looking forward to new challenges and going other places, but I've spent a third of my life here, almost all of my adult life.

"So leaving is very difficult in a way. It's an amazing country, it's been fascinating to see it change over the years. And I think, particularly when I look at young people, that it has a bright future."

Where are you going to?

"I'm going to Chicago and I'm going to be working as a journalist there, for Reuters."