An interview with 'Czech Business Weekly' editor Chris Johnstone

A new English-language publication devoted to business news has appeared on the Czech scene. The 'Czech Business Weekly,' a 36-page glossy format publication, is the third title published by the Stanford group, alongside 'Profit' and 'Business Plus.' A veteran of several business publications here in Prague, the editor-in-chief of the new publication, Chris Johnstone, joined me in the studio to discuss his experience as a business journalist here and the philosophy behind the new paper. Johnstone spent 10-years reporting in Brussels; I began by asking him about his work there and how he made the transition to the Czech Republic.

"I covered almost everything that the European Commission did - and the European Commission does quite a lot, so, I covered airlines, competition, transport, company law, mergers and acquisitions. You name it; I probably covered it at one stage or another."

When did you first come to the Czech Republic and then decide to move here?

"I first came as a tourist... I think it was probably in '91. It was in the winter, it was extremely cold. I stayed with private accommodation which had very loud pipes and I couldn't sleep very much, so...

At that moment you were hooked; you knew you had to return.

"Sort of. Yeah. But with some earplugs."

So when did you come back and in what capacity?

"After the first visit I came quite frequently. After about 10 years in Brussels, I felt I needed a change and I decided to go on a Czech language course at Charles University. I'd already been studying Czech in Brussels at evening classes. And at that time I was offered a job at "The Prague Post" and I decided to take it. That was five years ago, probably, and I've been here ever since."

And from 'The Prague Post,' which is the oldest surviving English-language newspaper here, you then moved on to the 'Prague Business Journal,' which I think was maybe the third attempt at a specialized business paper [in English] here in the Czech Republic.

"There was an interim period. Together with some people who were at 'The Prague Post' we set up our own news agency. I was with that for about a year. And then I moved over to the 'PBJ' as managing editor."

So when you joined the 'PBJ,' it had already been up and running for a while. I understand it was something of an adjustment, the sort of American style of business journalism.

"I wasn't that familiar with 'business journals' per se. Before I'd worked on newspapers, for example, in Brussels I worked for 'The Evening Standard' in London as their correspondent; I'd worked for news agencies. So, business journals were a bit different. It's the same news, essentially, but packaged a bit differently. That was the main adjustment, I suppose."

And in December a year ago the 'Prague Business Journal' shut down and I understand you were involved in a start-up that didn't quite come to fruition.

"After the 'PBJ' closed down, there was a bit of movement, you could say, on the media market and there were some attempts to restart it, quite quickly. One of those which I was involved with was an attempt by the Ekonomia group, which is the publisher of [leading Czech business newspaper] 'Hospodarske Noviny,' to set up an English-language weekly newspaper."

"The got as far as doing some dummy editions of what the paper could look like but then they decided that the advertising market probably wasn't there for it. And they thought the timing wasn't right because if they launched over the summer it isn't a good time for advertising, so they more or less shelved the project. And I think it's still on the shelf somewhere. If someone's going to dust it down? Maybe they will."

I have the first edition in front of me of the "Czech Business Weekly" - tell us what's in it and how does it differ from other publications that you've worked on.

"There's a lot, probably, of what you'd expect in it. There are profiles of small and medium sized companies; there's a big thematic story on the front page. It's called 'A Black Hole' and was basically about the current confusion over coal extraction limits in the Czech Republic. So, a typical scenario: you've got the Ministry of Environment, which says that the current limits will hold for another year; the Ministry of Industry says 'no, they finish at the end of next year.' And nobody really knows what happens next. So, that's the big thematic story. There are profiles of businessmen, question and answers, news.

"We also have a regional section in which we look at Czech companies that are doing interesting things in neighboring countries and also companies, say, in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, which are trying to make inroads into the Czech Republic. Basically because the market now — the central and eastern European market — it isn't just Czech, Hungarian or Polish, it's pretty intermixed, frankly. So there's a lot happening in that area."

Tell me something about the ownership of the paper.

"The publisher of the paper is Stanford a.s. Basically, for that you could read Karel Komarek, who is the owner of Fischer travel group and also a range of oil, gas and other companies."

So, he's got fairly deep pockets.

"With the current price of oil, I expect his pockets have gotten deeper."

"No. Essentially, 'Profit' is targeted at a different market. It's aimed at the small businessman and aimed at giving them advice. 'Czech Business Weekly' is more of a news business weekly, which is aimed at businesspeople in the Czech Republic whose main language of business is English."

It's a bit early, but what are projections as for readership, circulation and distribution?

"The print run is about 10,000 - which is quite ambitious. So far, the reactions - I mean it's only last Monday [September 20] that the first edition came out — but the reactions seem to be fairly good. The idea is that this will be distributed both in the Czech Republic and abroad, in places such as Brussels. In the Czech Republic, there will be subscription sale; it will also be available at major hotels, at conferences and at other venues."

Is there a guiding philosophy to the publication? Is it to be a 'paper of record' or investigative weekly, or something in-between?

"The idea is that it will be investigative. For example, the first issue exposes what is basically a confusion at the heart of the Czech government about policy on a major industry, which is the mining industry, and in a sense, the energy sector as a whole. So, 'paper of record'? That sounds a bit pompous. I mean, we don't cover everything and anything that moves. We have to be fairly selective."

The idea is that it gives insight into what's happening in the Czech Republic to business people who are both passing through and who are resident here. And I think it achieves that."