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Media in Malta: An Interview with Herman Grech

Posted: 12th January 2015 16:06

As a veteran journalist in Malta, Herman Grech knows what it takes to break into the industry.  Herman is the Head of Media at the oldest and most influential daily newspaper in Malta.  He is involved in setting the daily news agenda, writing editorials and carrying out interviews with the news makers, and coordinates The Times, The Sunday Times and timesofmalta.com.  In an interview with the iStudy Guide, Herman shares his career highlights and industry experience which includes brushing shoulders with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

You’re Head of Media at what is probably the most popular publication in your country, how did you break into journalism?

In reality, through friends!  A flatmate of mine was the chief sub editor of The Times and one of my best friends was a journalist.  I’d been freelancing in magazines for a couple of years and realised I was getting a far bigger kick writing than in my full time job in banking.  Reluctantly, I was pushed to go for an interview with The Times and the rest is history.

Journalism is extremely competitive in the UK. Why do you think it’s so popular, and is this the case in Malta?

Journalism can come across as a rather sexy job.  Many people like seeing their name in print and their faces on the screen.  It's no different in Malta, but most people get put off when they realise the hours they have to work, as well as the often miserable salaries they get in return.

Have you travelled much in the line of duty? If so, where do you remember most and why?

Yes, I've travelled quite a lot - mostly EU-related, as Malta prepared to join the bloc.  I spent six weeks before the official EU green light in Brussels and Copenhagen reporting the last minute negotiations.  I remember that purely for its historic significance.

The other trip I remember is what was meant to be a routine presidential visit to Bulgaria in 2001.  Our motorcade was involved in a horrific accident - one person was killed and a dozen injured.  I missed the flight out, conspiracy theories unfolded and a boring visit turned into an exciting journalistic experience.  I took photos on site with my disposable camera, tried to obtain official comments in a country still shrouded in secrecy and attempted to track down a computer to email the coverage from.  It was one of the stories of the year.

How does journalism and government attitude towards the media vary from country to country?

It's in a government’s interest to get cosy with reporters, whichever country you travel to.  It's also in the reporters' interest to get close to the government, without being influenced.  In Malta, the situation is very delicate because of its size.  I know a reporter that was writing about some dodgy civil servant who turned out to be his uncle!

Which story you’ve covered has affected you most and why?

It was probably in January 2005 when I was one of the few who witnessed the army beating a group of immigrants protesting peacefully in a detention camp.  The aftermath made me realise what a xenophobic and racist society we live in.  It also strengthened my resolve on the importance of the media treading carefully with such delicate topics.

What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you during an interview?

Rather than during, it was right after.  I’d negotiated an interview with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie in 2011 to discuss the refugee issue.  It was shrouded in secrecy right until the last minute and we had strict conditions that no photos would be taken.  When we moved out of the army camp, where the interview was taking place, Jolie walked right into an organised photo shoot, complete with top army officials… and cheesy grins.

If you could be remembered for one story, what would it be?

There are probably two.  The first is a story which helped a homeless person in the UK, who was suffering from memory loss, to be reunited with his family in Malta.  The second has to be the violence at the detention centre back in 2005.

What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?

That editors are right – most of the time!  And that the word 'assume' should never apply.

Who inspires you professionally and why?

My wife Ariadne, also a journalist.  Her enthusiasm for the job has really rubbed off on me and at dinner we talk about the stories revolving around us.

What are the best and worst things about journalism?

The best parts are getting to know so many people and the fact that no two days are the same. Boredom should never set in if you're doing the job properly…  The worst parts are the long working hours, stress and constantly ringing cell phone.

Do you have any words of wisdom for someone looking to start out in the media?

Journalistically, if you feel excited watching the news, then it’s for you.  But beyond the glitz and sexiness of the job, there are long, long days of frustration.

Has journalism changed you? If so, how?

Incredibly so.  It’s made me more confident in dealing with everybody – whether I'm speaking to the Prime Minister, a street thug, or a boring accounts executive.

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