“It’s a tough profession” – Interview with Krisztina Bombera about Professional Journalism

She is very busy but I managed to arrange an appointment with Krisztina Bombera whom I was interested in because of her being a successful journalist, reporter, and presenter. Also, she wrote several books, such as Felhőkarcolatok which is about 9/11, and Budapest Bár – Örömzene, with Zsófia Vajay being her co-author. Krisztina graduated from ELTE, which is a mutual point considering her and me. Our conversation was in a friendly atmosphere, she was very nice and enthusiastic to answer my questions. Among others, we were talking about her education, career, experience in America, and the work itself she’s been doing for roughly two decades.

 

What did you want to become as a child? Did you imagine yourself in the world of media or in another field?

It has never come to my mind to work in the media. I didn’t have any family members or acquaintances who worked in that field. I just wanted to go on to the university. I always saw only the next step. I knew which high school to go to. I was interested in human studies, I have also appeared on stage, so I haven’t had problem with this.

You loved literature, were good at English, and studied in the U.S. Is that why you have chosen English and American studies at ELTE?

It just happened. I didn’t have anything else in my mind. For the first trying I didn’t gain admission to the English Studies, so I went to California to study there for a year. The Department of American Studies got started at that time. So, after that, I started my studies at both departments. Then, I started the Media Studies – just for fun.

How did you end up in the media? How your career got started?

It happened also by chance. We were at the right place at the right time. In 1997, the commercial channels started to broadcast, such as RTL and TV2. They were given the concessions when I was a last-year student. Our class was very strong in a sense. One of our teachers was Éva Vajda, who is a prominent figure of investigative journalism, or rather was, because in a country without consequences it is quite frustrating to be such a journalist. Balázs Weyer, who was the general editor of Origo, also taught us. My classmates and friends were Kriszta D. Tóth and Pimaszúr [Gergely Papp – editor].

Did you gain knowledge through field-work only, or your studies gave something extra that helped you to set off?

Both. I gained a lot during my studies. For example, Péter Molnár, who was an expert of media law among others, taught us media law, and we were also studying media ethics. It was a very professional team. Most of my connections in the media are my ex-classmates.

You did not start by making reports… But what did you feel when you made your very first interview?

I was terribly nervous. It was just stunning to understand the responsibility of making an interview for a huge public. I got into the world of TV as a young girl…I remember feeling the responsibility and importance of it.

Did you get used to this type of work easily?

We were and are under a great pressure. This profession requires physical stamina and mental stress-resistance. You have to be able to do everything to finish your report on a given day. Find the ministers, the appropriate man in a hidden village plus an expert, then go back and cut the recordings. It’s quite a physical challenge. Obviously, your education and knowledge are essential. It’s a tough profession.

Sounds really exciting. A reporter’s life must be very exciting.

Yes, yes. And it’s really tiring as well.

Let’s get back to the job itself. How can you prepare for an interview?

You have to prepare a lot. You can never sit there without preparation. Routine also helps. You can learn a lot from your and your colleagues’ mistakes. I made quite a few mistakes and I learnt a lot from them.

Could you tell me one example?

For example, when you can’t map out your time properly in an interview. You start to work on the questions of a 8-10-minute interview and collect tiny questions that are important and has to be asked, but by the time you’d reach the point, the time is up. It is an issue of routine – and some sense of time. But sooner or later you get to know your interviewees so you can build up the interview according to their personalities and habitus.

You worked in the United States for MTV, TV2, and ATV…

For the MTV it was more than 3 years, and for the other two it was approximately one-one year.

As I know, you did everything alone there…

Yes, I didn’t have any assistance there. When I was working for MTV as the official newswoman abroad, my budget was the biggest, so I had a cameraman there, Ákos Rózsa, so he helped me with the recording. But there was a time when I had to ask a passer-by or family member to do it for me because of some impossible situations. Overall, I usually did everything alone.

What phases of work did you have to do exactly?

I was my secretary, producer, cinematographer, journalist, reporter, stylist, lightning technician, and editor. Try to find one that was not me! [laughs] Out of all these, I like cutting and shooting the most.

In what sense was it different from the work here at home?

It’s a huge difference that here I’m kind of known in public life, but if not, after a few buzzes they can find out. But in America I’m happy if they are familiar with my country where I’m from. There is a tense race between media companies and media gurus for one particular interviewee, which requires other tactics. It’s not enough that I work for a commercial channel, or that I’m Kriszta Bombera. What works in Hungary does not work at all in the U.S., so tiny tricks have to be applied. For example, I love standing in front of the men’s room with a cameraman because once everybody goes there. I can catch a politician whom I can’t contact otherwise. And although they are not happy about it, they do not show their back to the camera because they have elegance and media-awareness, and they answer my questions smilingly. This is my only chance. I have a bunch of such interviews.

Could you keep up with the rhythm easily? Did you realise quickly what tricks you had to use in such situations?

No, it was routine as well. If I’m not the nearest to the person physically, or the arm of others is longer, the interviewee will speak into that microphone. It need completely different kind of skills. For instance, if I’m not pushy enough, I do not have any chance. I have missed important opportunities because of my clumsiness, diffidence, or slowness – for a lifetime…

 So the rhythm is much quicker there…

A hundred times. The professionalism of the Americans is unquestionable.

 Do you believe that practice makes perfect?

Yes, practice counts a lot. For me the theoretical education was also useful. Both are needed. But I remember learning more about the profession at TV2 in a week, than at the university in a few years. I knew whom to turn to or where to look up something I had problem with. This job is not only empirical but also theoretical. Even if you are good on the ground, you cannot say no to improvement.

What do you think makes a good reporter?

Curiosity, definitely. Wherever you have to go, or whatever your task is, you have to have respect for that. All your tasks have to be completed with carefulness and respect, and have to be high-standard, which is quite hard. My occasional “disappearance” (working in the USA – editor) was good against burnout. Trying different types of works also can help. I have always rejected those offers that I wasn’t interested in – because curiosity is the very first point.

Do you have any future plans or you keep your habit to go with the stream?

Basically I think in a flexible way. I’m getting less sure about that someone can spend their whole life in the media in Hungary. Earlier I was more optimistic about that it’s such a career that you can take over your whole life. To tell the truth, I’m not relying on my being able to end my career as a journalist.

What else are you interested in?

I’m interested in law, human rights, child and family protection… I don’t know… [laughs]

So we’ll see it in the future. Anyway, this way of life must be really exciting! Maybe it is good that a person do not know what they can expect.

[laughs] I’m envy of those who have clear-cut ideas about themselves because it can give them push and endurance. But it is not a problem if you are tough and insistent in that particular thing what you’re doing. I have never fled a situation, but I’ve neither been chasing them, that’s for sure.

Life has put the opportunities before you then…

Yes, it has.

by Donatella Debóra Cseri

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