20 Years in Journalism Profession

My journalism career has been anything but traditional. I have been involved with media in many different ways since 1998 and throughout the years I have done everything from writing simple articles, editing videos, to managing team of journalists and even turning on a TV station in the morning. I had many good teachers and mentors in my life and that is one of the reasons why I am trying to pass some knowledge to young journalists as well.

1996: What the Heck is a Topic Sentence?
1998: First Journalism Experiments
1999: Introduction to International Journalism in the Balkans
2000: New Media Tour in the US / Pushing for Online to Taken Seriously
2001: Czech Press Agency (CTK) & Technet.cz
2001 – 2004: Studying Journalism and Internships at TV Nova & CNN
2004 – 2005: Studying in Nebraska & Working at local ABC Affiliate
2005 – 2006: University of Westminster, London
2006 – 2009: Producing Promotional DVD
2009 – 2012: Creating news site about Latin America
2012 – 2017: Teaching journalism home & abroad

1996: What the Heck is a Topic Sentence?

In the fall of 1996 I was sitting among about 30 students listening to our teacher who was also a young Peace Corps volunteer about something he called a “topic sentence”. The guy just few years older than us said words “topic sentence” about zillion times during the 90-minute class. Most of us Czechs were completely confused about what he was trying to say but I was probably the only one who learned what the word “topic” actually meant meant after the class. I was intrigued by this new approach to writing (up till that point nobody actually explained to me how to write). Within one year I wrote more essays in English than I did in Czech all my previous life. Year later I realized that I really liked writing and I joined a class that produced tiny magazine for the English department at our university.

I created my first website in 1996 and as a firm believer of Freedom of Expression joined Blue Ribbon maybe the first online campaign opposing internet censorship.

1998: First Journalism Experiments

In 1998 I started what you might call a blog on the internet (however nobody really new what blogging was until 2000s).The site / blog was called RanniShow (Morning Show) and while at the begging it contained mostly satirical and funny articles as time went on it had more serious articles as well. Patrick Zandl founder of Mobil.cz – the biggest news server at the time – noticed the site and he bought us a domain (something that could not be done that easily at the time) and helped us run traffic to the site.

At the time only around 3% of Czechs used internet. Even though there were not that many people on the internet some of our more popular articles were read by thousands of readers. We were able to interview some interesting people like Oscar winning Sasa Gedeon. In the fall of 1998 RanniShow also became the first Czech site to put news audio on the internet (we received permission from Czech Public Radio to publish their audio news report on Internet Against Czech Telecom Monopoly in 1998).

1999: Introduction to International Journalism in the Balkans

In 1999 I took a short break from RanniShow and travelled to the Balkans to cover refugee crisis in Kosovo. Somehow I found myself at the border with Albania travelling with team of Czech TV Nova (yes at that time they could send a van of journalist to cover a story abroad) and once they dropped me off in the capital Tirana I slowly found my way to a reporter from the biggest German paper called BILD and spent week shadowing her work and filing reports from Kosovo-Albania border for Czech Radio and writing for newly established opinion webzine iPort.cz, where I became editor-in-chief later that year.

2000: New Media Tour in the US / Pushing for Online to Taken Seriously

Working at iPort.cz was a surreal experience. I was barely 24 years old and by all standards knew very little about journalism. Still I was the managing people who had decades of experience. Among the writers for iPort were poet, singer and later Czech PEN president Jiří Dědeček, writer Jaroslav Veis or controversial cultural critic Jan Rejžek.

iPort Interview with Czech movie director Jan Hrebejk
iPort Interview with Czech movie director Jan Hrebejk

At iPort our first big challenge was to be taken seriously and make ourselves equal to traditional media. We started to cover regularly Czech government press conferences and  soon we were invited to cover National Day Ceremony at Prague Castle. We were also covering the negotiation of Opposition Agreement (taking photos on a floppy disk camera and were first to publish online the text of the treaty), covered Czech Lion Awards (highest award of achievement in film awarded in the Czech Republic) and were reporting on US State Secretary Madeleine Albright’s visit in the Czech Republic.

We had big plans at iPort and Mobil Media so in early 2000 I was sent on an interview tour to the United States to meet with major online media and see what we can learn from them. I met with representatives of MSNBC, Salon.com, CNET and Yahoo News. Among the people I met with was Rick Boyd who sold first banner on the internet (and thus ruined the web :)….). That same year I also reported from Oscars Academy Awards for iPort and radio station Frekvence 1.

2001: Czech Press Agency (CTK) & Technet.cz

After I left iPort I was hired by Czech Press Agency to start news outlet focused on Prague and later financial news website (financninoviny.cz). At the start of my job I had to learn about every department at the agency (domestic, international, photo, financial, documentation etc.). I spent on average a week in every department and tried to learn how they all work, so the sites we were creating would take the advantage all that the agency was already doing (we had to be careful not to create a competition). It was a great school and having bosses that spent their entire lives in the agency like Jan Stejskal and Jiří Majstr was reason why I consider my stint at CTK one of the best parts of my journalism education.

After both media outlets that I was hired to start at CTK were running, I was offered to come back to Mobile Media which now became part of the biggest publishing house Mafra Media. There we launched the site Technet.cz (among other things we covered legendary COMDEX from Las Vegas and introduction of WindowsXP)

2001 – 2004: Studying Journalism and Internships at TV Nova & CNN

After couple of intense years “learning while doing” I thought it was time to go back to school and actually learn about journalism. This time unlike during my previous university attempt I was willing to immerse myself fully in learning and concentrate on nothing else (it helped I spent summers working in the US, so did not have to do anything else for 9 months out of the year). Dedicating myself fully to studying journalism turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

In the fall of 2001 I started studying Broadcast Journalism at Charles University. I attended some exceptionally good Czech lectures at Charles (Sports Journalism with Robert Zaruba, foreigner TV media with Milan Smid). At the time we also had access to some good video equipment and a TV studio (something you really needed before YouTube and smartphones). While at Charles I also met some exceptional lecturers from abroad. My favorite foreigner professors were Wayne Svoboda (at that time assistant professor of journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism), Charles Hood (former dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism) and Michael Bluhm (who run quite an alternative class on Hunter S. Thompson). Practice at Czech Public broadcaster was also good fun.

My first university internship took place directly under editor-in-chief of TV Nova News Pavel Zuna. Lessons at Nova were both inspiring (respect Nova had with people on the street) and somewhat disturbing (paying a homeless person to move scrap metal for a nice video shot).

My second internship took place with International Desk of CNN in Atlanta during the fall of 2003 (first year of the Iraq War). As a journalism student fascinated by CNN history (as told in Me and Ted Against the World) I felt extremely lucky to be working in the newsroom when the veteran anchor Leon Harris had his last shift and got a standing ovation from hundreds of us in the newsroom. It was interesting to be witnessing from inside preparation for California’s election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor. I was also very proud and nervous when I was helping to secure CNN’s exclusive interview just minutes after it was announced that Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. CNN was a cool place to be at that time – especially when someone like actor Jack Black came to the newsroom to promote his new film School of Rock. Well, it was also a bit surreal when I got to greet Wolf Blitzer on the building escalators.

2004 – 2005: Studying in Nebraska & Working at local ABC Affiliate

In 2004 I was selected to become Paul Robitschek Scholar at the University of Nebraska. A year before a student project “Cuba: Elusive Truth” was nominated for the Pulitzer prize, so I was convinced that it was a good school. Besides studying advanced courses in broadcast journalism I also worked at local ABC affiliate KLKN TV as a Master Control Room (MCR) operator and Production Assistant (PA). Here in stark comparison to CNN I learned how tricky it can be to run a local TV station with just two cameras (not even robotic or remotely operated) and how little time you had to move that heavy camera beast from anchor desk to green weather screen. In addition on some weekends I was responsible for turning the station on in the morning and signing off with the American anthem at night.

2005 – 2006: University of Westminster, London

After year long stay in Nebraska I was accepted to University of Westminster into Interactive Multimedia Program (there were only 2 or 3 programs like that available globally at that time). At Westminster I learned many useful things about media project management, user interface (UX), java and also bunch of now obsolete tools like Flash & Director. The thesis I wrote was about delivering video-news over the internet (YouTube was in its infancy at that time) and I still think the computer professor who marked my thesis did not understand that I was not in “computer” program.

2006 – 2009: Producing Promotional DVD

In 2006 I took hiatus from the world of journalism for couple of years and worked as a senior manager for a health company owned by Bain Capital first in Texas and later in British Columbia. In that time I stayed up to date on video production by producing annual documentary that brought me filming to many areas of the US from New York through California to Hawaii’s Big Island. And in that time I still occasionally reported for the Czech Radio (on Obama – Clinton Primary in 2008 or first Obama’s first trip abroad).

2009 – 2012: Creating news site about Latin America

LADnes.cz Screenshot
LADnes.cz Screenshot

When I quit my management job in the US and Canada I decided to spend two years in Latin America learning about the region, visit most of the countries there and in the process I created Czech news site about Latin America LADnes.cz.

In the fall of 2012 I also consulted on the creation of money saving website Skrblik.cz (Scrooge).

2012 – 2017: Teaching journalism home & abroad

In 2012 I was hired by Czech NGO People in Need to work on Cuban journalism program. As part of my job there I thought video broadcasting classes to Cuban journalists in Prague and also taught some “flat seminars” to independent journalist inside Cuba.

In 2014 I started teaching at Charles University in Prague. Currently I teach two classes a semester there on Media Project Management and Media in Latin America (see more here).

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