|Written by: Philippe RibotonWhat’s a goodbye without a bit of reminiscing? Here’s a few words from, for, and about the people that made The Prague Tribune a labor of love.
Jack Stack, CEO, Česká spořitelna
» I believe The Prague Tribune has set a very high standard for journalistic professionalism and for high quality writing. I will most definitely miss the editorial – it was a must in our family, and was always thought-provoking.
marketing director, Mattoni
» I’ve been reading The Prague Tribune since I came to the Czech Republic in 1993. I feel I will miss a smart observer, a lucid guide, and a good friend.
Philip Aarsman, managing director, Business Lease
» The Prague Tribune showed that another approach is possible. To focus on success and not only on the corruption and failures. I will miss the sometimes cheeky but always striking, editorial, the “time-off” section, people, interviews, case studies, and the “Focus” articles.
Armin Zerunyan, general director, Hotel Hilton
» The Prague Tribune was the first real modern lifestyle and business magazine in the Czech Republic in English. It helped me feel the pulse of Prague.
Naveed Gill, general director
Tiscali Telekomunikace ČR
» The Prague Tribune developed over time into something more than ‘browse-through material’, and created some essential reading. I will miss most Mr. Riboton’s editorial, and the in-depth interviews.
Anthony Shee, managing director, Kinnarps
» The Prague Tribune brought an individual and fresh approach. Its editorial, its insightful interviews and analysis were a treat. I will simply miss it.
Tomáš Prouza, Deputy Finance Minister
» The Prague Tribune brought a different viewpoint on goings-on in the Czech Republic, and a willingness to write about successes, not only problems. I read it for objective journalism and for a different point of view than that offered by classic Czech media.
Vít Šubert, marketing director, Dell Computer
» From its beginning, The Prague Tribune was a very serious and credible medium. It enriched the Czech media market, and had practically no serious competitor in its category.
Martin Roman, general director, ČEZ
» I think that The Prague Tribune certainly influenced other business periodicals on the Czech market, as it was one of the first to conjoin business and lifestyle. The high-quality paper, format, work with photographs and text – all of this provided a direction to the others. It gave space to Czech entrepreneurs who managed to succeed even amidst foreign competition. It showed positive examples of people who asserted themselves through diligence and audacity.
Marko Pařík, general director, Delta Pekárny
» The Prague Tribune brought a different viewpoint than the typical Czech outlook on the problems and development of our society. It was certainly more audacious and without taboos. One example of this that I will particulartly miss is Mr Riboton’s introductory comments.
Jan Sýkora, general director, Wood & Company:
» High-quality format, solid and professional journalism: The Prague Tribune showed that making an interesting and professional magazine works. I will miss a magazine like this.
Martin Jahn, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs
» The Prague Tribune was a high-quality magazine – it always brought objective news and a very valuable view from “outside”. Publishing the magazine in two languages was an excellent idea; many Czechs thus gained an attractive possibility for improving their English, and foreigners living in the Czech Republic had the chance to work on their Czech. It was amusing, never stale, and it had an interesting composition of information that you couldn’t find elsewhere. I am very disappointed that it’s ending…it’s a loss.
LOOKING BACK at the early days, there were plenty of reasons why The Prague Tribune should have never seen the light of day. History will recall that its first issue was actually conceived in some tiny office in Paris, with a group of people that had no knowledge at all about press publishing, nor about former Czechoslovakia. The only person to give a bit of credibility to its start-up team abroad was a retired journalist from the Czech Press Agency (ČTK) who loved France, was smoking French gitanes like a chimney, and was spending nights dictating Czech diacriticals to a a stoned graphic designer, one by one, with a French keyboard that didn’t have any!
The Prague Tribune memories are full of those stories that would have threatened the life of a normal business from day one – it did not have the necessary capital to survive a start-up; it did not have anybody with the relevant experience in an emerging market; it did not have the IT equipment needed for such a mission. But it had a vision: to build a bridge between the Czech entrepreneurial sector and the international community. To be the mirror of a new economy and a new generation to emerge. “It all created the feeling of being part of something bigger than just a magazine”, recalls Philip Staehelin, former finance manager of the company and now head of the managing director’s office at T-Mobile in Prague. Still, its first issue came out like an act of God – and God was kind enough to stay around and repeat the miracle every two months (it was bimonthly at the time).
Judge for yourself. Its sales team basically consisted of Czech medical students that were making pocket money to finance their studies. Its editorial team was no less exotic, essentially made up of Americans doing their European tour right after university and falling in love with Czech girls…and Czech beer. No wonder there was an unbelievable degree of commitment and energy on tap; people were working around the clock and sleeping in the office. “We were all on the same boat, we were simply giving the best of ourselves,” recalls Samir Benmammar, one of the magazine’s first sales representatives, now director of Vanadoo, an incentive company. “Solidarity, dedication, enthusiasm, team spirit, white nights, it was all there,” he says. “When the pressure was on, everyone pulled together and performed like a symphony orchestra,” recalls Fabrice Biundo, another of its first sales representatives, now advertising director of Hachette Filippachi in Prague. As a result, the closing of each issue was a life’s achievement for everybody involved. “Working at The Prague Tribune was unlike any other job I’ve ever had,” says its first editor-in-chief Christine Bučan-Fauci, now executive vice-president at a Miami PR firm. “We worked hard, but with a sense of humor.” It was a tradition of sorts to finish every issue in the wee hours of the morning, after spending an average of 24 hours making it come to life. With dawn’s early light coming into The Prague Tribune office on the top floor of Americká 17 in Vinohrady, it looked like everybody was emerging from the maternity room after a delivery – washed out, but proud and happy. “All those overnights and weekends were like a toll we didn’t mind paying to our passion,” admits Jaroslav Nejedlý, the mastermind behind the design and the production of the magazine for no less than 10 years. “Those were beautiful years of my life that I will never forget,” he adds.
After one or two chaotic early years, when the magazine was rolling along on the edge of bankruptcy, it started to somehow get organized – assuming you could say that of a company managed by a Frenchman! “Who wouldn’t want to work for the French, are you kidding?” jokes John Letzing, an American journalist formerly with The Prague Tribune, now writing for Dow Jones in California. “The entire month of July off! Birthday celebrations for employees with wine in the afternoon!” This family flavor and work atmosphere certainly owed a lot to the fact that the main operations of the company have long been managed by women. The wife’s publisher, Catherine Riboton, was the magazine’s first advertising manager. With the face of an angel and the faith of a warrior, she was proudly promoting the magazine like her newly born first child, Juliette, another Prague Tribune baby. The maternity instinct was no less intense in the editorial room – each of the magazine’s three chief editors over those 12 years have been women. Christine Fauci-Bučan, an American, Radha Burgess, a Brit, and Klára Smolová, a Czech, all watched over the independence and quality of the magazine like a female wolf protecting its cubs. “I can’t recall the number of times I had to explain that we don’t take money for writing about a specific company, or that we don’t submit texts to people that are interviewed for ‘proofreading’,” recalls Klára Smolová, its last editor in chief, now on the way to join the Trader Media Group in London to launch a new magazine. “These practices are so common in the Czech Republic that everyone thinks they’re normal, not realizing that this is not what independent journalism should look like,” she adds.
In fact, freedom from power and freedom from money define what kept The Prague Tribune from becoming another of those unbranded products that invaded the market during its lifetime. Consequently, it also severely suffered from its refusal to submit to the local advertising “dictatorship”. Exchanging an editorial page for an advertising page, committing to regular coverage of a specific company for the promise of a long-term advertising contract, etc. As long as CEO’s were in control of advertising spending, this was a doable confrontation. The magazine could flex its muscle and still get respect. From the moment advertising power got transferred to a bunch of uneducated and greedy middlemen, the only possible choice was that of Johann Faust, who sold his soul for power and wealth. The Prague Tribune is folding today because it never made that choice.
GOING BEHIND THE BILLBOARD
These days articles that cover in detail the property of politicians are common, but in 1993 an article detailing the property of then-President Havel was something brand new and caused a lot of controversy.
There was not and is not anything wrong about President Havel’s property, as most of it is real estate that belonged to his parents in the past. Nevertheless, the article evoked many negative reactions from people who saw it as an insult to a person they thought of as nearly god-like. In intellectual circles abroad, Havel was very popular back in the 1980s, and as Philippe Riboton, the publisher of The Prague Tribune, recalls, “our perception of him was as a pauper who wrote amazing things.” When he came to the Czech Republic at the beginning of the ’90s, he was surprised to discover that Havel was himself in fact a “grand bourgeois”. Havel wasn’t at all excited in people’s interest in his property. A French journalist, Anne Dastakian, a co-author of the article, recalls, “Havel was dismayed by questions dealing with his property and tried to evade them. In my opinion, one of the reasons was that he’d suffered all his life for being from a capitalist family, but had never lived as a capitalist.”
The article describing the Havel family’s property and its estimated worth was supplemented by an interview with the president in which he said, among other things, that he had no business ambitions. According to Christine Fauci (now Bučan), the article’s other author, it wasn’t at all easy to arrange the interview. The questions were sent by fax (in 1993 there was no e-mail in the Czech Republic), and after many telephone calls and reminders the president finally answered them. “It was amazing for us, publishing an interview with the president,” Christine adds. That the article brought something new was borne out by its being reprinted by several American and French magazines.
The entire story had a parallel plot. The Prague Tribune wanted to support its sales with an advertising campaign, so the cover with President Havel appeared on billboards. This evoked great indignation at the Castle, with Havel’s spokesman Ladislav Špaček protesting the use of the president’s photograph in an advertisement, and asking Philippe Riboton, the publisher of The Prague Tribune, to cease the campaign. Mr. Riboton refused, and the president’s spokesman at the time threatened to bring a law-suit for breaching the president’s right to privacy. Our publisher determinedly maintained the campaign, but no legal action was taken against the magazine. Radio Alfa, which used not only Havel but also then-Prime Minister Václav Klaus and then-British Prime Minister John Major in its advertising, encountered the same problem. But unlike Havel, according to the media, the other two politicians had no problem appearing in advertisements.
PUTTING THE CORRUPTION ON THE COVER
Opening a Czech magazine today it seems that everyone is writing about corruption, but in 1993 it was something completely new.
Back in 1993 corruption was an unpopular topic, and “writing about it was seen as undermining the newly ascending democracy,” recalls Monika Mudranincová (then Hájková), one of the article’s authors, adding, “no one wanted to speak with us about corruption; we encountered reactions of incomprehension that we wanted to write about it.” One of the few people to communicate openly with The Prague Tribune was Petr Pithart – he was also one of the few Czech politicians to announce publicly that he had been approached with bribes.
The Prague Tribune revisited the topic of corruption in 1997. But as Tomáš Prouza, the author of that article and now deputy finance minister, recalls, “I only had to say that the topic of my interview was corruption – then no one wanted to speak with me,” he says. “Originally we wanted to write about the experiences of firms and entrepreneurs, but no one wanted to make any official statements about this issue,” says Prouza. “On the other hand, many unofficial stories were available – they were all about people’s competitors…” he adds. Nevertheless, you can see from the article that the mood in society had changed, as while four years earlier, many people saw corruption as a necessary evil associated with capitalism, in 1997 you could sense that we had paid a high price for not resolving the problem.
And while corruption is still rife, when we look at the 1993 article in issue #4, we discover that at least some things are different. Back then, an anonymous restaurant owner admitted that he “paid” CZK 60,000 for the accelerated installation of three telephone lines. Today he could choose from among several telecom operators, and that’s certainly good news. But what’s worse is that other “fees”, such as facilitating various documents from authorities, are still a reality. In the 2005 rankings compiled by Transparency International, the Czech Republic is in 47th place, on a par with Namibia.
GIVING WOMEN SPACE
The Prague Tribune never presented women in business as an “endangered species”, but rather as a simple matter of course and an enriching part of the community.“THE IDEA OF HAVING a ‘women in business’ cover was quite natural for us. We could see how prominent women were becoming in the workplace in general,” recalls Radha Burgess, former editor-in-chief of The Prague Tribune, who now works as an associate director at West Bridge Consulting in Great Britain.
The editors who worked on those articles were surprised to find out that job inequality didn’t matter much to Czech women. “The Czech women were uncomfortable about being associated with whiney feminists,” says Emma McClune, who wrote the article for The Prague Tribune, “and just didn’t feel like complaining about all the good fortune they’d already experienced in their respective careers.” One of the women with whom Emma spoke back in 1996 was Olga Girstlová, the general director of GiTy and one of the most influential women in Czech business. “You gave positive examples of the three roles of women – professionals in their field, partners, and mothers in family life, and the importance of their personal happiness and self-realization,” says Girstlová. Magdalena Souček, a partner at the Czech division of Ernst&Young, adds that there are still differences in the positions of men and women at work, so they still deserve the publicity. “Too much care can sometimes be detrimental, but society needs to be educated.”
For The Prague Tribune, articles on this theme were a daily reality – there were always women managers at the magazine. The image was initially established by Christine Bučan-Fauci, followed by Radha Burgess, and now Klára Smolová. “Just as the publisher gave space to successful and capable women on the magazine’s pages, he also made space for women on the magazine’s team,” notes Klára.
BRINGING COMPETITORS INTO THE ARENA
In May 1997, The Prague Tribune looked at the battle between Eurotel and RadioMobil (owner of the Paegas brand) in a “brand-new – and potentially lucrative – market.” At that time, Paegas (later bought by T-Mobile) had 53,000 customers and Eurotel courted 140,000. Those mobile operators now have customer bases of 4.55 million and 4.49 million, respectively.
It’s been a long road to reach those numbers, though. Klaus Tebbe, RadioMobil’s managing director at the beginning, now on the management board at Poland’s largest mobile operator, PTC, looks back fondly. “I remember starting without a real office, people, suppliers, or defined processes,” he says. Paegas was essentially a start-up then, hiring some 150 people between March and December 1996. “Everybody was 150% motivated, working seven days a week around the clock in extremely difficult conditions,” recounts Tebbe.
The Prague Tribune portrayed the struggle between the two carriers in 1997 as David (Paegas) versus Goliath (Eurotel). “Eurotel looked better in the first issue in May 1997,” Tebbe admits. “In the second story (1998), it was already balanced.” Which made the battle even more intense. “We were fighting in all areas,” Tebbe says, “although competition was executed [mainly] through the media and PR.”
Years later, though, a new David-and-Goliath story was emerging. By 2003, a third operator, Oskar, had become the new underdog. In its January 2003 issue, The Prague Tribune ran the first CEO roundtable, gathering all three top managers to discuss the market. “I agreed because I was intrigued by the direct and confrontational format. I thought it would be a fun and interesting way to present CEO’s views ‘live and unedited’,” says Terrence Valeski, former head of Eurotel, now chairman of the board at Sonim Technologies. After seing the interview in print, T-Mobile CEO Roland Mahler commented: “The article provided a fair snapshot of the discussion, albeit with a few rough edges.”
Only three years later, things on the market have already changed – Eurotel has new owners and management, and was passed by T-Mobile in customer numbers, and Oskar can no longer play the underdog after being purchased this year by Vodafone. While the battle continunes, it seems that most spectators have already chosen sides.
SHOWING BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY
September 2000 marked a milestone for The Prague Tribune, with the unveiling of a sleeker, more visual format. The content also got an overhaul, and in the new issue readers saw an exclusive interview with the famed “pirate of Prague,” Viktor Kožený, a man still wanted here for privatization fraud. Kožený spoke with our reporter long-distance from his Bahamas residence.The interview came at an interesting time for Kožený, as litigation suits had recently been filed against the businessman claiming he defrauded American investors in an Azerbaijani privatization which never got off the ground, costing investors their money. To Kožený, he was being made a scapegoat. “The investors were willing to take on a tremendous risk,” he said in the interview. “They tried to ‘heal’ themselves at my expense.” Indeed, it was expensive for the entrepreneur, as today he sits in a Bahamas jail, awaiting extradition to the United States.
With Kožený appearing on the issue’s covered decked out in a dark business suit underneath palm trees, The Prague Tribune received criticisms of glorifying the Czech fugitive. However, for the magazine, the interview was an attempt to report all sides of the Czech business scene – the good, bad, and ugly. That approach was tested again, in April 2001, when Milan Šrejber, another controversial entrepreneur, spoke with our writers.
Šrejber had been sentenced to five and a half years for misusing business information, and allegedly trading within the funds he gained during coupon privatization. As a financial supporter of ODS who publicly admitted his contributions, he was also “sent up” by the Ministry of Finance when the donations he made to that party were determined to be illegal. At the time when these charges were still under appeal, Šrejber spoke about his case with René Jakl, a journalist for The Prague Tribune. In an interview that would become another of the magazine’s “exclusives”, Šrejber mainly talked about clearing his reputation. “I would like justice here,” he said, “and for people not to be persecuted just because there is a demand for that in society. I have never cheated anyone.” The court agreed soon after, and Šrejber was released in July 2002, having served a short spell in prison. Since that time, Šrejber, unlike Kožený, has disappeared from local headlines.
BACKING A NEW GENERATION
One of the fundamental missions of The Prague Tribune was giving space on its pages to young talents who were beginning to build their positions in the world of business.
“IF YOU Look at every second issue of our competitors, you still see coverage of the dinosaurs of the Czech economy or politics,” observes the magazine’s publisher, Philippe Riboton. “They ignore the emerging Czech business generation that represents the new blood and the future of this country. This is at the core of the identity and marketing differentiation of The Prague Tribune.”
Many articles were devoted to promising persons in the business world. “Some of them have remained at the top, some of them have given it up. But what’s important to people doing business today is their stories, their ideas, and their know-how,” says Jasna Sýkorová, a former contributor to The Prague Tribune and now an editor at Lidové noviny. “That was the magazine’s strength – portraying inspiration, and sometimes even a specific road to success,” she adds. Beyond business, the magazine was also interested in people who stood out from the crowd in various areas of politics, sports, or even the arts. Names like Zuzana Stivínová, Bohuslav Sobotka, Bára Nesvadbová or Jan P. Muchow were not as well known when The Prague Tribune wrote about them as they are today. Similarly interesting are the stories of individual young talents who created the magazine each month. “Judging by the positions our former contributors hold in the Czech Republic but also abroad – from Tomáš Prouza, who is now deputy-minister of finance in Prague, to Craig Karmin at The Wall Street Journal, Killian Schalk at The New Yorker, or John Letzing at Dow Jones – I believe we were not too bad at picking the right young and promising talents,” notes Riboton.