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Kábele: People have to talk with each other, being part of ČTK staff is diagnosis


Jaroslav Kábele, the current Director of Strategy and Development of the Czech News Agency (ČTK), will be the ČTK’s new Director General as of June. What feelings, plans and visions did he have when he entered the selection process, where does he want to take the agency and what does he want to achieve during the six-year term?

What concept did you present to the ČTK Council? In which ways do you want to build on your predecessors and what new things do you want to bring to the agency?

Building on the 12-year-long era of Jiří Majstr is both easy and difficult at the same time. Easy in that he is handing over the agency in a good shape, with the principles of work being established well and the ČTK running like a well-oiled machine. The hard part is that everyone will compare the new director general to Jiří Majstr. Another difficult thing is that all journalistic production is under great pressure, both economic and social. Social media have driven some people to think they do not need journalists. But I think that the opposite is true.

So, I want to build on the hard work and the emphasis on reliability and independence. In order to be independent, we need to have enough money. And since it cannot probably be expected that the media market will continue growing and someone will come up with new projects that need our coverage, we have to be more active in the non-media field. This market is relatively huge. Companies, institutions, organisations and PR agencies just need to know what we can do. And there is a lot. Sometimes, when we speak with new clients, their chins drop in surprise at all the ways we can be useful to them.

What feelings did you have when you entered the selection procedure? Was it a desire to try something new, an ambition to continue the work of the current director general or the responsibility towards the company in which you have spent a part of your life?

Yes, all of it. When we failed to persuade Jiří to run for another term, it was he who pointed to his "crown prince". At first, I wondered a lot whether I was up to it. But then I realised that I have gained some experience after all, both here in the ČTK in the early 1990s, for example by establishing a branch in Bratislava, and by managing and looking for new projects that would "tinkle", or bring in new money to support independent serious reporting. And let it be said that, unlike some of my colleagues, I still had the ČTK in my heart even after I left for the private sector. So, when Jiří Majstr offered me in 2017 to embark on development and strategic plans after years of savings at the agency, I was happy to return. And I am happy that some new projects have been able to be launched and bring new money. For the same purpose: To help diversify sources and support independent reporting.

Your already came up with new topics, changed the economic functioning of the ČTK and expanded the non-media services of the news agency in 2017 when you took up the post of Director of Strategy and Development. You found the nooks where no one saw anything before you, and you were able to exploit them. Will you continue this visionary approach as Director General?

Well, saying that I have changed the economic functioning of the ČTK is perhaps too much of an exaggeration. But yes, I find it fascinating that, for example, my Austrian colleagues in the APA already generate 60 percent of their income from non-media activities. I think we have already done some work in Protext and the ČTK Academy, which are combined into the Special Services Centre. We have quadrupled our turnover over the past five years and added brand new 11 million crowns from grants, but we still earn most of our money as an agency from selling news to the media.

I am glad that my idea of acquiring the Profimedia photobank has been successful. In one step we have thus achieved several goals and strengthened the position of the ČTK Group on the market. And in five years' time, when Profimedia manages to repay its loan, it will generate dividends for its sole shareholder, the ČTK, and thus contribute a few million crowns a year to the budget.

But to answer the question, yes, I would like to keep pace with developments in the media and technology world and come up with new ideas. On the other hand, I would like people from all departments to come up with new ideas, whether from the editorial staff or from the sales, IT or accounting departments. I will always keep the door open, as people need to talk to each other. Even if they are not sure whether an idea is a good one. We will discuss it, say whether it is worth the time, energy and money. In general, I would like us to automate everything that can be automated, make the stereotypical work easier and spend time on creative activities.

Are you going to change the ČTK’s staff? Are you bringing in new people? How are you going to choose your collaborators?

I do not see any reason to change anything yet. I have been in top management with most of the people for over five years. They are experienced people who know a lot about their job. But I will also ask them for their view of the future, including even bolder opinions that would change the established orders and structures. Together, we will then discuss how this would help the ČTK and its clients. Because as Jiří Majstr says: The ČTK will only be satisfied if its clients are satisfied.

What about the position of the Czech national agency in Europe and in the world? Do we have anything to offer to our colleagues abroad?

I am sure we do. We are respected members of the European Alliance of News Agencies and the technology association MINDS International. Especially in the latter group, which focuses on new directions in journalism and work with data, we are a sought-after partner in many projects. Take, for example, the European Video Alliance (EVA News), a project of video news exchange with colleagues from Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium. We came up with the idea of distributing these videos on the České website and on our channel on the television – and colleagues abroad were surprised, as they do not have such possibilities or they did not think of it.

We also offer the distribution of press releases and commercial video streams in Poland, Slovakia and Austria through our partner agencies. The German agency dpa has approached us with the #UseTheNews project, which explores how to reach the young generation and deliver serious news to this target group. We involved a research team from Charles University, with the Leibniz Institute helping in Germany. We will see how it unfolds and what application we can find. Speaking also about Profimedia, this question is actually redundant. We already offer ČTK photos through Profimedia abroad and generate money from their sale.

What would you like the ČTK to look like in six years when your mandate ends?

I would like to see it still running like a well-oiled machine. So that clients cannot do without the ČTK's services because the services will be so good and so worthwhile that they would be foolish not to pay for them. To be a modern agency so that the ČTK staff can still be proud of their company and feel honoured to work here. Being a "četkař" (ČTK employee) is a diagnosis. And I will do everything I can to be as useful to the ČTK as possible.