Decision time

"It seems that the Spectator is at a crossroads. Does it want to become a networking service for expats, or a contributor to the Slovak public sphere as a new organization? I would vote for the latter, despite the problems that this poses for revenue. As Slovak society becomes more integrated into European and global media circuits, there is a greater role for a world language participant in the fifth estate in Slovakia. Tackling the tough issues through investigative reporting would narrow the gap between expats and Slovaks and create a market for the Spectator within the English-reading Slovak public. Slovakia has changed much since the mid 1990s, and The Spectator's niche has, too."

- Brian Schwegler,

"The Spectator is entering a period where it may become a significant player in providing clear and unbiased news, and not necessarily just to the foreign community."

- Richard Budd, Prievidza


Since the paper was founded almost 12 years ago, we have aimed to be just that - a contribution to the local media market as well as a resource for expats to help them find their bearings in Slovakia. I feel we have come a long way towards achieving the former goal, and are now a recognized brand among Slovaks who use English in their daily lives. But we have made less progress among expats.

There are several issues at stake here. One of them is the increasingly varied nature of the expat community itself. Let's face it, back in 1995, all of us foreigners were pretty new to this country, including those putting the newspaper out, so what was likely to interest us, or to seem to us intelligible, was likely to be so to our readers as well. Over a decade later, however, some expats have learned Slovak and integrated fully, giving them a completely different information appetite and news needs than the newly-arrived Dutch entrepreneur or Indian teacher of English. Reporting that is likely to interest Roger Heyes in Žilina or Jon Gresty in Prešov (still there Jon?) may not be appropriate for the new head of the Bratislava VW plant. Likewise, I may stop doing restaurant reviews and language columns (more on that later), feeling that over the years we have pretty much run the gamut, but forgetting that 99 percent of our audience won't remember that we reviewed Prašná Bašta five years ago, or wouldn't object to a fresh look at the language of Christmas.

Trying to appeal to both a local Slovak audience as well as an expat one is an even greater challenge. First, our advertisers are interested in our expat readers, because they are what make us different from any other media product, and because they have other ways of reaching the Slovak audience. So, if our Slovak readership increases, it will have to do so sufficiently that the numbers are interesting in their own right (i.e. that they match those of titles like Trend or Týžden, say around 15,000 copies a week). And to achieve that, several things would likely have to happen - the language we use would have to be made simpler, and we would have to invest a significant amount in "rebranding".

Finally - and this is the least of our problems - in becoming a more mainstream media product we would have to employ mostly Slovaks, while the range of expats we could hire would be sharply narrowed to those with the background and experience to write for a domestic audience. Because only years of living in this country can give what you write about it the tone and shading that will be accepted by a domestic reader. If your writers are mostly Slovak, on the other hand - as they are now - the burden of editing copy is correspondingly higher.

I believe one answer to this dilemma is to provide as much variety as possible, and to appeal to as wide a reader audience as possible, even within the confines of a single article. For example, a language column can include both basic grammar and vocabulary as well as more sophisticated constructions and more obscure slang. Those with better Slovak language skills may not mind the review, if it is presented in an entertaining manner, while beginners stand to profit from the entire package. And while our Slovak-speaking readers may already be familiar with the week's main events from Slovak media sources, we can stand out from the rest with the context and balance we provide and the associations we make. And everyone would enjoy more coverage of regional happenings (more on that later).

Now all we have to do is sell enough ads to be able to go to 16 pages on a regular basis, in order to have room to provide something for everyone.

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