The Czech journalist Iva Skochová has been based in New York for the last seven years. She works freelance, writing in Czech for like the likes of Lidové noviny and Reflex, and in English for international publications and websites. When I spoke to Iva Skochová in Greenwich Village, I first asked her to compare journalism in the Czech Republic and America.
“Journalism has a lot more of a tradition here in the US. You see a lot more experienced people here than you do in the Czech Republic…I would also say there are rules, people go to study journalism and go for advanced degrees in journalism, and that just doesn’t really happen in the Czech Republic.”
Do you find editors here are more demanding than Czech editors?
“Yes! Editors are more demanding. I would say they’re a lot more experienced, they’re older, so you don’t quite run into the 25-year-old editor-in-chief as you do in the Czech Republic, as much.”
What kind of American stories are Czech newspapers interested in?
“It’s a little bit difficult with American stories, because on one hand people are interested, on the other hand they are literally inundated with American stories, because all the wires supply them with so many American stories.
“So I tend to pick out the stories that are a little bit quirky, and they have some sort of a…storyline that’s not as mainstream, and not necessarily something they would see on TV.”
Can you give us any examples of anything you’ve sold recently?
“Right now I’m working on a story about how the school system works in New York, how literally you have to take your four-year-old to interview to get into a really good kindergarten, so he or she can get into a really good elementary school, high school and then Harvard! So really your fate has to be decided at four years old.”
You’re a travel writer – can you sell the same travel stories twice, once in Czech, once in English?
“It depends on who pays for me to travel there. If I pay for it myself, I can sell a similar story – I would never sell the exact same story twice, but I could definitely sell something from the same country to two different…markets, yes.”
Do you do much work these days in the Czech Republic? I know you do some journalism there.
“I would say about half of what I do is in the Czech Republic, although I write most of it from here. But that’s the great thing about the 21st century – nobody knows where I am.”
But I presume you must spend a lot of time keeping up with Czech affairs from NYC.
“Yes, I do. But we have the internet, I’m on the phone a lot and I travel back and forth all the time, about once a month.”
This is a different subject completely now, but what’s the perception of the Czech Republic in America, or even just in New York?
“In New York it’s different than it is in the rest of America, I would say. Everybody knows Prague and everybody loves Prague. But people still sort of remember it the way it was in the early ‘90s – they don’t realise that Prague has changed quite a bit, it’s not quite the bohemian mecca it once used to be.”
What kind of stories about the Czech Republic would interest people here?
“Stories about minorities are always popular. It seems like half of the stories I read here about the Czech are about the Roma population. That’s something that’s of interest.
“And lately I’ve heard a lot more about the Czech countryside, towns outside of Prague and the castles being sold to different people.”
What about particular Czech figures – for example, would Václav Klaus, the president, be known here, or would he feature at all in American newspapers?
“No, not really, not Václav Klaus. What I run into is that a lot of people still think the president is Václav Havel – he’s a big figure. And Klaus – only the people who are interested in Czech politics would know who he is.”
What about from the world of culture, or the world of sport?
“Everyone knows Miloš Forman, of course, he is very well known. A lot of people know writers – Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka. I wouldn’t say that anybody from recent literature is very well known.”
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