Chief Editor of Catalonia Today

“Seeing so many people reading it was wonderful”

“We ’read’ the world from a Catalan perspective, but we present it in English to expats and Catalans alike”
How did you first hear about the Catalonia Today project, and how did you get involved in it?
Well, I had known Carles Puigdemont for a couple of years before he approached me in order to ask for my help in the launching of his new project: a free English-language daily newspaper in Catalonia. As the director of the Casa de Cultura in Girona at the time, he had previously asked me to curate an ambitious exhibition on the figure of English writer George Orwell in his centenary year, in 2003. It seemed a pleasant and rather surprising initiative to me as it came from a member of Jordi Pujol’s political party, where a socialist like Orwell could hardly be considered a luminary. However, I liked the way that Carles Puigdemont (I believe he is a very well-known name these days) approached me about the exhibition, which he wanted to be ambitious, professional and with no conceptual interference. As it happened, the exhibition was quite a success in Girona, Sant Cugat and Barcelona. So when he told me about the English-language newspaper I was naturally inclined to get involved. After all, I was teaching English literature at UPF [Pompeu Fabra University] and was the chairman of the major association of English teachers in Catalonia: it made sense to me. I became a sort of advisor with an active role in the selection of English journalists living in Catalonia and in setting up an initial committee to endorse the project, which included the likes of journalist Mònica Terribas, professor Andreu Mas-Colell and even my friend Jon Snow, the well-known TV journalist and anchor of Channel Four News in the UK. Everything started with a lot of positive energy.
What was the philosophy and the main goal of the project?
Basically, there were two main concepts. One was related to the idea of a ’free’ newspaper that would guarantee a large circulation (I remember that for months it was quite usual to see people reading the paper on the buses or the underground. A wonderful sight!). And a large circulation would attract adverts, and so on. The other idea behind the project was twofold: to give Catalan issues projection through the communicative potential of the English language and to create significant, meaningful content in English for Catalan speakers. And to do so on a daily basis!
What was society like at the time, and was it a good time to launch an English-language newspaper?
I thought so. The idea of having such a publication at the airport, in the country’s hotels, in our schools, and so on, looked like something of real value that would be more than welcome in many sectors of society.
What was the hardest thing about getting the publication up and running?
Well, the snag was that our public institutions did not welcome the project with the sort of financial enthusiasm that we had initially expected. I detected aspects of sectarianism in the attitude of some that were perhaps wary of the journalist Carles Puigdemont as a member of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, the party of Jordi Pujol. On the other hand, 20 years ago, there were few influential politicians running the institutions that had enough knowledge of English to really understand the contents of the paper. With some exceptions, it was hard for one reason or another to find natural allies where it mattered.
Why did the publication undergo so many changes in its early years?
As a result of financial difficulties, and the effects of the economic crisis of 2008, we had to make adjustments to reduce costs, and we lost the main strength of the paper, which was to have it as part of the daily news in the Catalan communicative system. It was turned into a weekly and, eventually, it survived as a monthly with the help of the El Punt Avui media group.
At the time, did you expect the publication to last 20 years?
I don’t think we were thinking about things like that at the time. Our concern was to reach the widest possible readership. We were very active in producing content in English for the ambitious new project of El Punt TV. We produced the series ’The Class’, made by very talented people, which featured stories for children in cooperation with the British Institute of Barcelona, as well as talk shows in English.
How do you think the so-called ‘death of the printed press’ might affect the magazine in the future?
I believe our monthly magazine has become an interesting and valuable product with an emphasis on culture and the arts in Catalonia, but also covering the main political developments in the country. We keep on providing a perspective of our changing multicultural society in the English language but produced by journalists who live and work in Catalonia. We ’read’ the world from a Catalan perspective, but we present it in English to expats and Catalans alike using a rich variety of contributors. Somehow, the founding spirit of Catalonia Today is still very much present in these pages. Times are not easy for the printed press, as everyone knows, but we retain some singular features that, hopefully, will help us to make it through the coming years.

interview 20th anniversary

Life of an anglophile

Alongside his role teaching English literature at the Pompeu Fabra University, Miquel Berga chaired APAC (Catalan Association of English Teachers) and was VP of the Catalan PEN. He is also an author who has published extensively on George Orwell and other Anglo writers associated with the Spanish Civil War, such as John Langdon-Davies, whose biography he wrote in 1991. He later edited and translated Nancy Johnstone’s accounts of the Civil War, a project that led to his most recent book, “Un país estranger” (A Foreign Country). Catalonia Today’s Chief Editor, Berga is also a regular columnist for the El Punt Avui newspaper.

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