Twenty years ago, I’d been in Catalonia for 13 years. Married to a local girl who had not long before given birth to our first child, I was pretty sure that this was going to be where I would settle for life. I was also pretty sure that teaching English would continue to be my chosen profession, and I was ready to invest a tidy sum of money into doing an advanced training course to improve my job prospects as an English teacher.

But as we all know, life has a funny way of derailing our best laid plans. A chance encounter at a dinner party with Stephen Burgen, Catalonia Today’s first Editor, led to me typing these words two decades later. Stephen told me that a journalist who used to work for the El Punt newspaper, Carles Puigdemont, had started his own daily publication entirely in English and that he was recruiting native English speakers with journalistic experience. He invited me to come and meet Puigdemont. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yet while it was true that Catalonia Today was looking for English native speakers with journalistic experience, and also true that I ticked both boxes, I think that one main reason Carles was interested in me was because of my Catalan. I had never got very far with Spanish and after only a couple of years I switched to Catalan because most of the people in my life spoke Catalan. By 2004, I had been speaking the language for 10 years and so my level was quite good, as was my knowledge of Catalan society and culture. It may not be so difficult to find today, but 20 years ago there weren’t many native English speakers with journalistic experience with a high level of Catalan who were also integrated into the local society. These characteristics made me a good fit for Catalonia Today and the publication offered me the change of professional direction I didn’t know I was looking for. (English teaching is a fine profession and a job I enjoyed but I’m not sure I was particularly good at it and so I jumped at the chance of a change.)

So why did my level of Catalan and my knowledge of Catalan society and culture make me such a good fit for Catalonia Today?

One of the publication’s key goals is to explain Catalonia in all its complexity in English, so an English-speaking journalist who is integrated into Catalan society is the ideal person to do this. That is especially true if we remember that some of Catalonia Today’s readers might only have a superficial knowledge of Catalonia and its politics, history, culture or traditions. So, any article dealing with those issues will be more understandable and communicate its point better if it passes through the filter of someone with a profile like mine.

Secondly, the brilliant part of Puigdemont’s idea is not that it followed the model of the free newspaper funded by advertising, a concept that already existed, but that Catalonia Today was born in the El Punt stable. To fill a newspaper requires a large workforce of journalists and editors who also need the time to take articles from the idea stage to publication. But if you have relevant content available that is fresh and that has been produced and vetted by qualified journalists and editors, then producing an English version of that article is relatively simple, as long as you have a small number of people with the skills to translate and adapt it so that it is suitable for an English-speaking readership. Catalonia Today always has and always will produce its own original material, but having the option of drawing on the work produced by El Punt Avui’s staff and adapting it for our publication is a factor that made the project feasible in the first place.

That is why my Catalan was as important as my English and my journalistic abilities when Carles took me on 20 years ago. And I’m not the only one, there are more like me at Catalonia Today and together for 20 years we have explained Catalonia in English like no other publication I’ve ever encountered. Here’s to the next 20!


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