I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED A SILLY SEASON, SAYS PAVEL ŠTRUNC, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF CNN PRIMA NEWS
It has been a year since the new CNN Prima News brand was presented in the Czech TV market. “We must always be prepared for everything,” says Pavel Štrunc, Editor-in-Chief of CNN Prima News.
The recent days have brought the Vrbětice case to the public sphere. The case is likely to resonate across (not only Czech) media for a long time. What did it mean for CNN Prima News?
Primarily the opportunity to show that we are able to immediately respond to exceptional situations. Provide the latest information and responses of those involved in the case – politicians, institutions, experts and citizens – to viewers in a fast, understandable and attractive manner. The development of the case is certainly dynamic and will be the key topic for us for a long time. However, this weekend was rich in exceptional events; on Saturday, we dedicated a five-hour special broadcast to the funeral of Prince Philip. I am glad that we can produce such demanding broadcasts well. After all, it is confirmed by hard data, the broadcast reached 575 thousand viewers in the 15+ target group, the all day share was 2.74 percent on Saturday.
How many people are preparing the news?
According to our headcount data, I am in charge of nearly four hundred people, including reporters, editors and many other professionals. It is a big TV. We no longer broadcast for an hour, it is 15 hours and more now. But if we have a look at the daily operation, there are twelve to thirteen people in the newsroom today who are prepared to fill both continuous broadcasting and the prime time news with content.
For our website, the number is similar, but there are people who are ‘on shift’ preparing texts for presenters of continuous news and in addition, there are other editors who come with topics to our meetings and then set off to shoot the reports. So the number is higher. A news service is a living organism.
In February, you added late-night news from 11 pm, what was the reason?
It shows that viewers are interested in late-night news, from 9, 10, 11 pm. We know that people watch the screens at these times and the ratings are quite interesting. When we have 0.5 to 0.7% of audience share, it is attractive for us. As news TV we should broadcast all day, both in the morning and in the evening.
You have mentioned an audience share. The professional server Médiář provided information that CNN Prima News saw 0.44% in January and that you have to double the share by May if you want to meet the plan.
In March, we had 0.75 percent. In general, TV is less dynamic than digital. The audience share is understandably important to us, we are seeking to achieve the planned share and I believe that we will even exceed it. I cannot refrain from being optimistic, but it will not happen as fast as we expected. I think that we are on the right track. The March result of our average audience share is not bad in my opinion, there were days and shows when our daily audience share was 1.5%. Specifically, it was when we broadcast Partie, our discussion show that hosted the Chairman of the Senate, Miloš Vystrčil, the Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, and President Miloš Zeman. We can put our shoulder to the wheel. But the journey will be longer, I admit.
Have you already put your team together or are you still building it? Some people from Prima have appeared in Seznam Zprávy recently…
They were first in Seznam Zprávy, then they were working with us for some time and now, they are back again. As I have said, a news service is a living organism. I think that the team is stable at the moment but of course, I would like to complete it with additional names. They should include experienced journalists who are famous in the news community and with whom I make interviews as well as promising fresh reporters. We have several of them, they are learning on shifts, they want to work hard and come up with new topics and I will not prevent them, on the contrary, I want to support them. We should not headhunt famous names on the TV market. I would rather hire people who come to us on their own to be part of CNN Prima News and we will train them, we will work with them from the beginning until they become more stable staff members.
When you mentioned training, long ago Prima damaged its reputation among journalists due to a record of a meeting with the then head of news, Jitka Obzinová, informing her editors that Prima would apply a single specific approach to the migration issue and those who did not like it were not welcome on TV. Is this not happening anymore?
No, this is not happening anymore. Definitely not. It is contrary to my and Prima management’s conviction.
We continue working in compliance with the independent news policy connected with an objective, balanced and professional way of providing information, showing various opinions, including the critical ones.
When I was talking about the need to train young editors and reporters I meant teaching them what a good topic is, how to process it with high quality and how to approach it critically. Not giving them strict orders what to do.
How beneficial the CNN brand in the name of your station is to you and how has Prima changed by introducing the brand?
I think that the entry of CNN is a big step for Prima. A big step was also its move to new large premises. I believe that CNN will not only strengthen Prima’s news but will also be beneficial to the entire company. I am often asked what the benefit of CNN is. Apart from the option to contact their reporters wherever they are in the world and be the first to bring verified information from the spot in cooperation with them – we had a live broadcast of the Congress attack while having other guests in our studio providing their comments, which was an ideal combination in my opinion – the largest benefit of our cooperation with CNN is something that you cannot see from the outside but what is seen in the backstage: CNN is perfect in working with content it has, it is able to exploit it, it is able to provide it to viewers repeatedly in various forms, it can complete it and these are the skills to learn. CNN has many years of experience, it is a great brand and that may be useful for Prima.
Do you feel any effort on the part of CNN to shape Prima, for example politically?
No, I don’t. Let’s make this clear because it is important for me. If I understand your question correctly you are referring to the fact that in the US context, Fox News is perceived as a station that is more on the right while CNN is more on the left. And in the US context that is based on the competition of the two strong parties it makes perfect sense. But we are not influenced at all in this respect, our editors are independent of CNN. We have accepted the standards and policies of CNN International as part of licence conditions but at the same time, we meet the Code of Ethics for news and journalism prepared by ATO and as I have already mentioned our coverage continues to be balanced, objective and politically independent.
I have heard a comment that CNN Prima News is more of a Czech Fox News.
A Czech Fox News? Why?
Because of the content and focus of the news. It related to Prima’s news in the previous period when it for example emphasised the alleged influence of George Sörös on elections in European countries, but all information related to Sörös and there were no reports on other effects. It was connected with the fact that Czech Prima’s view was similar to Fox News.
But you are talking about news broadcast by Prima about five years ago.
Yes, it is true but for example on social networks, these reports are still shared and reminded again and again.
I understand. But I would try and answer as follows: If you have a wedding and invite your family and guests from a wide area, some people may take it as your fresh start but you will never satisfy everyone. Someone will think that the meal is too cold, someone will find the ceremony too long, etc. That may be what is going on on Prima. It is important to say that we have been broadcasting for less than a year. I am convinced that our content is excellent, that we make good interviews, goods reports and that Prima has become a strong player. Our website is successful, it ranks among the strongest websites in the Czech market and some may dislike it. And this may be the reason why old cases are recycled. But I am here to make the company going on in future.
I think that the main thing is not that someone wants to recycle your old cases, the matter is that the view of certain topics Prima used to apply was appreciated by a portion of the internet community and it keeps sharing it.
You are right. But it is the same as if at the wedding, someone finds the potato salad too sour, you just cannot please everyone. I believe that our colleagues from CNN would let us know immediately if anything worked bad in terms of our cooperation, they keep monitoring our work on a regular basis and we are in contact with them continuously.
However, one piece of news that was spreading over the social networks in its misinterpreted form is from the last year. It was about testing a single person several times with different results, which was shared as distorted information – for example that the testing took place within a single day in 10 different locations, which was not true. As a result, people in the discussion took the information as confirmation that tests were useless although the report related to a single doubtful testing in a single place.
But you said it yourself, it was misinterpretation. We provided a fair and correct report, which was later living its own life. Unfortunately, this is part of our life these days although I am not too happy about it.
Can you do anything against it?
If I were to respond to all assumptions or speculations or insults I would not do anything else. Most likely, I would have to keep posting something on social networks but it is not my job, I am responsible for the company to work well, be attractive to its viewers, have high ratings, make really independent news and not to be scared to invite guests having conflicting views and being able to participate in a debate hosted by our TV in which all parties have an opportunity. That is all.
What news are you planning for the near future?
We are in an election year, so the news will focus on this issue. People talk about a silly season but since I have been working with the media I have not experienced any. One day there is a case concerning the appointment of the minister of culture, which was the case of Mr. Šmarda, another time there are riots in the United States, so we always have to be prepared for anything that may occur. After all, the current situation relating to the Vrbětice case is proof of that. But we will definitely concentrate on elections, we are preparing new formats that I believe will be attractive for viewers and we will do our best to engage viewers as much as we can and take them as close as possible.