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Culture Shock: In Bratislava, you are what you read

You can judge a Slovak by his cover. Newspaper cover, that is. If his cover says Hospodarské noviny, then he likes numbers; if it screams Nový čas, then he enjoys pictures; if it reads Roľnické noviny, think farm animals. And if two people holding copies of Slovenská Republika and Új Szó happen to meet, they are probably not going to get along.
The cliché 'you are what you read' has been given a refreshing new application in Slovakia with its dozens of periodicals jostling for newsstand space and reader identities. Coming as he does from a country where nearly all cities are now dominated by one bland mainstream daily, this newspaperman calls the Slovak media scene a free speech paradise.


illustration: Igor Lyskov

You can judge a Slovak by his cover. Newspaper cover, that is. If his cover says Hospodarské noviny, then he likes numbers; if it screams Nový čas, then he enjoys pictures; if it reads Roľnické noviny, think farm animals. And if two people holding copies of Slovenská Republika and Új Szó happen to meet, they are probably not going to get along.

The cliché 'you are what you read' has been given a refreshing new application in Slovakia with its dozens of periodicals jostling for newsstand space and reader identities. Coming as he does from a country where nearly all cities are now dominated by one bland mainstream daily, this newspaperman calls the Slovak media scene a free speech paradise.

No less than 13 daily newspapers are published in Bratislava alone. And not one of them has its home city as part of its name! Instead, they have catchy names like "Truth," "Work," "National Awakening," and the cryptic "We Are." Others state their mission with flatly unambiguous monikers like "Economic Newspaper," "Agricultural Newspaper," and "Daily Sport." But whatever their name, all of the newspapers have a niche - some tiny, some all-enveloping.

What this rich media variety does is to segment the population into vaguely identifiable types. Ride public transport, and you're likely to see almost all of them. Here are a few guidelines:

The Old School Executive: The executives who subscribe to Hospodárske noviny, aka HN, like to keep it on display in the office reception area as a sign of prestige, informing visitors that 'this guy is a serious businessman' - whether he actually reads the paper or not.

The Older School Executive: What's the difference between Hospodársky denník readers and HN readers? Not much, because the disgruntled former HN editor who founded HD brought with him many of his loyal reporters, advertisers and readers.

The Social Butterfly: The typical reader of today's made-over Národná obroda is drawn to the full color photos and society stories favored by the owners, who also run TV Markíza.

The Voyeur: More people buy Nový čas than any other daily in the country. Not that they all read it - čas is famous for its topless page five girls and gory crime photos.

The Timeclock-Puncher: Many Práca readers still pick up their favorite paper to catch the labour unions' view of events and to scan the country's most well-established job classifieds

The Reformed Comrade: The readers of Pravda may not be the nation's new generation of leaders, but they might be raising them. The people who avidly read this former mouthpiece of socialism, like the newspaper itself, have become enthusiastic about reform

The Gen X'er: If Pravda's readers are yesterday's leaders, then Sme's may be tomorrrow's. Having come of age during and after the heady 1989 revolution when the paper was born, they are sometimes advocates of change for change's sake.

The Babka: It is jarring to find anyone under 40 reading Slovenská Republika, the paper that daily trumpets the virtues of an independent Slovakia.

The Farmer: Most readers of the agricultural pages of Roľnícke noviny live outside Bratislava's urban environs working the land for the cooperatives.

The Jock: See someone in sweats coming from the gym, going to an ice hockey match or standing in the betting parlor, and they're likely to be toting that day's Denník Šport. A favorite also of well-muscled, short-haired men who drive Mercedes.

The Loafer: As Bratislava's least well-established daily, Trhák is still trying to lure readers with color photos, low prices and soft stories.

Gyula: Perhaps more than the readers of any other paper, those who pick up Új Szó stand out in a Bratislava crowd - they are the ones speaking Hungarian.

The Gossip: Just as they did as youngsters, many housewives and retirees still go shopping in the late afternoon just to get Večerník's latest scoop on their Bratislava friends and neighbors.

And what about The Slovak Spectator? The failed English teacher? The loud American? The Irish Pub regular?

Write in and let us know.

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