A Prague Memory: Thoughts for Aspiring Journalists

James Tressler / Sunday, Aug. 31 @ 8:31 a.m. / Letter From Istanbul

Like many young writers, I always dreamed of writing abroad – if not in Paris or London, then any exotic locale would do.

So upon my arrival in Prague, I immediately contacted Dinah Spritzer, the news editor at the Prague Post.

The reception was a bit cold, to say the least:

“You’ll find that reporting on a former Eastern bloc country is nothing like being a reporter in California,” Dinah sternly admonished. “I’ve known people who were journalists for 20 years back in the States and they couldn’t produce a single story (here) because they didn’t understand the language, or the else the culture.”

It was a bit deflating, starting all over again, especially coming off a fairly successful four years at The Eureka Times-Standard. But I realized she probably knew what she was talking about. Still, I kept circulating my resume and clips. An editor at the now-defunct Prague Tribune was more encouraging. There was nothing at the Tribune, he said, but he suggested I get in touch with Andy Markowitz over at the Czech Business Weekly, and he even gave me an email address.


The Czech Business Weekly was a start-up magazine funded by a sugar daddy in the financial district, one of many such English publications that were endlessly cropping up in Prague then. They usually would last a few months before the sugar daddy saw he wasn’t making any money, lost interest and folded the magazine.

But the CBW, at least then, was hanging on. The owner seemed determined to make a proper run. He’d even expanded the magazine, adding an Arts and Culture page. This section was overseen by Andy, an ex-Baltimore newspaperman who had gone expat along with his wife Barbara, who was also a journalist.

I sent Andy a few clips, and we met for a few beers at Marquis de Sade (gone now). When he arrived, I saw that Andy had my clips in hand, and he told me he had given them a quick read on the metro. Andy had taken the time to red-mark the clips – stories that I was proud of, by the way – and he spent some time talking about the stories, giving some useful advice on how the stories could have been better, etc.

“The reason I agreed to see you,” he said presently, “is that you actually have had some newspaper experience. So many of these kids come over to Prague from the States with vague, romantic notions of being Hemingway, and they expect to just get on somewhere with no experience or qualifications.”

So he gave me a shot, and I was grateful. Although Andy seemed to feel my style was a bit raw, he saw that I was eager, and could be depended on to turn a story around on time. Over the next few months, it became a semi-regular gig, squeezed in around my teaching schedule. Andy threw me concert previews, exhibitions, festivals, whatever he couldn’t get around to, and was even cool enough to offer a few contacts to get me started. Most editors expect you to develop your own sources, which is fine but it can be a challenge when you are living in a foreign country and are still learning the language and customs, as well as finding your way around.

Along with the experience, the freelance gig supplemented the money I was earning from teaching. I suppose my hopes then were that my Czech Business Weekly stuff would eventually attract notice over at the Prague Post, which was the leading expat newspaper in Prague, had been ever since it began publication just after the Velvet Revolution.


Evidently, my persistence did pay off. One afternoon, I got an email from Dinah Spritzer:

Hi James.

Hope you are settling in and monitoring the Czech press very carefully.

I can try you out on a story perhaps next week if you have the time. We pay 1,500 to 2,000 crowns a story depending on length.



In those days, 2,000 crowns was about 75 dollars. I had thought of doing a story about Prague’s graffiti problem, which had blighted many of its neighborhoods in recent years. Andy suggested talking with Jan Kasel, a former Prague mayor who apparently had been quite vocal on the issue in the Czech press. The former mayor had an office in Andel, a neighborhood running along the Vltava on the southwest side of the city.

I scheduled an appointment, and found the office. When I arrived, a security guard phoned upstairs, and I was told to go up to Mr. Kasel’s office. When I arrived, the former mayor barely even acknowledged me. He seemed distracted, angry.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, finally remembering our appointment. “It’s just that my laptop has been stolen. I left the office for lunch, returned and it was gone!”

He brushed by me, excusing himself. I followed him dumbly downstairs. The former mayor went to the lobby and began furiously cursing the security guard in Czech, circling the lobby in impotent rage.

“I’m sorry,” he said to me, stopping suddenly and composing himself. “But I’m afraid we must cancel our appointment.”

“When can we meet again?” I asked, somewhat desperate.

“I don’t know. Call me sometime next week.”

That afternoon, I emailed Dinah Sprizter, explaining what had happened.

“So old Jan Kasel’s office got burglarized? Now that’s a story!” Dinah replied, somewhat sardonically. “Will keep it in mind. But need I remind you that crime in the U.S. Is 2,000 times greater than in Prague.” Meanwhile, she said the graffiti story had been done,“a TON of times, check our archives.”

I felt that I was starting to get through though; at least she was giving reasons why she was rejecting my ideas.

For instance, when I heard about an experience a friend of mine, an American, had had when he got sick with pneumonia and had to spend two weeks in hospital. Since the guy was a close friend, his situation had struck close to home, for it showed how exposed expats can sometimes feel living abroad.

I wrote Dinah suggesting a story about my friend’s experience.

She replied:

Dear James,

I’m sure your friend’s story struck a chord with you. But we try very hard to avoid what we call typical Czech-bashing stories and instead focus on what is important to the Czech nation, not foreigners from much better off countries who have gripes about living in a post-communist country, gripes Czechs and long-term expats have heard 1 million times and are utterly sick to death of … Frankly, I would be much more interested in a story about Czechs and how THEY are treated overseas, as our story Cruel Britannia explored.



Actually, not long after this exchange, I finally met Dinah in person, at a pub along with Andy and a few other people. Andy had worked with Dinah at the Post before leaving for the CBW.

“She’s actually a really great person,” Andy told me. “She can just sometimes come across as mean, but she’s not like that once you get to know her.” Meanwhile, my work evidently impressed Andy Markowitz enough to hand me over to Tim Gosling, who was the business editor of the magazine. Tim was a Brit in his mid-thirties, with a cool, laconic style. He had me do a survey of American investors in Prague, getting their forecast on future investment prospects, how Prague could stay competitive in the face of other emerging former Eastern bloc cities such as Budapest, Bratislava and Kiev.

For that story, I graduated somewhat from a freelancer who always did the job outside – by mobile phone, interviews in cafes like Bohemia Bagel, and often filing the story either at an Internet café or even on one of the computers at the school – to almost a full-on employee. The Czech Business Weekly’s offices were in a building near Na Prikope, a popular shopping street which separates Old Town from New Town. I was given a desk, a phone and a computer, which made life a lot easier.

The only drawback to the gig was getting paid. The policy of the paper was that all freelancers were to be paid 30 days after the story’s publication. But you found that more often than not, it took even longer than that, and numerous, increasingly frustrated text messages to the Accounting department were needed before the cash eventually landed in your bank account. But that’s another story. You got paid, understand; it just sometimes took awhile, so you couldn’t really factor it into your budget.


That same summer, word came from on high that the sugar daddy wasn’t happy. He was tired of paying freelancers, for one thing. The Arts and Culture page was an “extravagance” that the paper could no longer afford. Andy, my mentor and ally, was suddenly gone. Fortunately, he was well-known and respected in Prague’s small but lively English-American press corps, and he soon found other work.

I stayed in touch with Tim Gosling, who had a second gig at a construction and investment journal that was housed near the top floor of a building on Wenceslas Square. He gave me a few other stories on the business beat. I did a story on a proposed expansion of the airport in Budapest, and another story on a proposed expansion of a highway north of Prague. But to be honest, by then I was somewhat disgusted and disillusioned with the CBW’s treatment of Andy, and its seeming indifference to the good work he (we) had done.

Also, at the time, I found I was somewhat bored with journalism, and was anxious to have a go at writing fiction for awhile. So I gradually stopped dropping by the magazine, stopped sending emails, and sort of quietly slipped away.


A couple of years passed. I wrote my first novel, which was just that: A “first” novel, every page revealing all my influences and all my inexperience. I wrote short stories, and occasionally sent columns back home to The Times-Standard.

Then one day I heard, through the grapevine, that Dinah Spritzer, the formidable news editor at The Prague Post, had left.

An instinct told me to get in touch with her successor, Kim Hiss. So I sent an email, introducing myself, and with a few story suggestions. She didn’t reply immediately, but from time to time, I would write a short note outlining some ideas.

Then, one day, right in the middle of a lesson, my phone rang. Normally, as a teacher I frowned upon students using mobile phones in class. I myself hardly ever received phone calls, so it wasn’t really an issue. However, something told me to answer the phone, so I apologized to the students and answered it.

“Hello, this is Kim Hiss calling from the Prague Post.”

I jumped out of the desk, motioning to the students, who could see my excitement, and nodded encouragingly.

Kim wanted to know if I could meet that evening for coffee to discuss some of the story ideas I’d mentioned in my emails. I told her I was teaching at the moment, so we quickly agreed to meet at a certain café that evening on Vodickova Street near Wenceslas Square.


Kim arrived at the café, and we spotted each other. We sat down and the waiter brought us two espressos. Kim was in her late twenties, and from what I had read was from the East Coast, and had written for Field and Stream before coming to Prague.

“The thing I liked about your emails,” Kim said, “is that you pitch stories. So many people send me emails saying, ‘I’d really like to write for the Post’ and stuff like that. But they never pitch anything. They never have any stories to offer. So that’s why I wanted to see you.”

She had jotted down some of my story ideas, and over the next half hour or so, we hashed them out, one by one.

Finally, we settled on an idea that I’d proposed about senior citizens. That idea had occurred to me while riding the buses, trams and metro. Often I’d see old people, looking tired and dim, getting on and off, in sad contrast to the young Czechs, the millennials, with their iPods and iPhones, their jeans, bright t-shirts and sneakers bought at the New Yorker and Marks and Spencer, freshly returned from trips to Paris, to Rome, to L.A., with tickets bought cheaply online. I tried looking at this new generation of Czechs through the eyes of their elders, who had lived through many privations and restrictions during a half century of Communism. It was speculation, but it seemed to me that they must at times have felt bitter, that they were missing out.

Kim liked this angle. As we finished our coffee (she insisted on putting the bill on the Post), she told me to send her a formal pitch, which she would then submit to the managing editor, Frank Kuznik. Leaving the café, I thanked Kim for giving me a chance. It had been long time since I had done any journalism, and I suddenly realized I had missed it.

Kim scrutinized me for a moment:

“Yeah, I’ll bet you have,” she said.


I fired the pitch off in the morning, and later in the day got the green light to go ahead researching the story. I had two weeks to turn the story around. The gods seemed to be behind me, for everything quickly fell into place. By chance, one of my students, Jirina, had a relative, “Babichka,” who was in her nineties, and had lived through both World Wars, as well as Communism.

We had dinner at the grandmother’s house, and with Jirina acting as translator, enjoyed listening to the old woman’s memories about the bad old days, as well as her reflections on the present.

“It’s good,” she reflected. “These days you go in the shops and there are lots of things to buy.”

One of my good friends, Sonia, agreed to an interview. She was a prototypical Czech millennial, frequently jetting off on trips around the Continent (travel was restricted during Communism), and singing Latin-Alternative rock in a club in Mala Strana.

“I respect what the older generation had to go through,” Sonia said. “But that doesn’t mean I have to live my life that way.”

Another stroke of good luck came a few days later when, while strolling across Old Town Square between classes, I ran into Prague Mayor Pavel Bem. He was just coming from hearing a speech the prime minister had given from the balcony at Tyn Church marking the anniversary of the First World War.

A few survivors of that war had been in attendance, wearing their uniforms and war medals, which may have put the mayor in the right mood. For when I approached him, introducing myself and explaining my story, about how elderly Czech citizens who grew up during the Communist era seemed to be missing out on today’s “Czech Dream,” the mayor nodded quickly and answered:

“Senior citizens are a measure of the health and wealth of the State,” the mayor said. He went on to add that there was a proposal at the state level that was being considered which, if approved would provide a modest increase to the senior citizen’s monthly pensions.

I rounded out the story by traveling to a senior center on the far west side of the city. I spoke with the director, who very obligingly sat down for a half hour interview. We talked about the plight of seniors, especially in light of the escalating cost of living in Prague. The director said the the center was trying to offer programs that would help connect Czech senior citizens into today’s tech-driven world; for instance, by offering Internet and mobile phone training.

I interviewed other young Czechs, including one of my students, Daniel, who was a lawyer for the Ministry of EU Affairs. As we talked over beers, Daniel seemed impressed.

“I’ve only known you as a teacher,” Daniel said. “But as a journalist, I see you are like a fish in water, as we say in Czech.”

As I said, everything just seemed to fall into place on that story. I submitted it to Kim well before the two-week deadline. She suggested a comment from someone from the state Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. This was arranged by one of the Czech staffers, who called the ministry directly and got a quote, which rounded out the story.


When the story ran, I went to a tabak in my neighborhood where copies of the Post and other newspapers were sold. I purchased a copy and opened it. My story was there, on Page Three. OK, not the front page, but still, I had done it. Finally, I had been published in The Prague Post. I thought about that day, more than three years before, when I had received that stern, admonishing email from Dinah Spritzer, about how she knew people with 20 years experience who couldn’t write anything, etc, etc.

I looked at my story, held it up: Take that Dinah Spritzer.

Looking back on that experience, if I were to offer any advice to anyone looking to be a journalist, it would be this: Hang in there. Don’t get discouraged. If you can’t beat ‘em, you can at least outlast them.

Actually, Dinah had been “write” about many things. I blushed when I thought about my first arriving in Prague, blindly pitching stories without knowing anything about the culture. A lot of my ideas were bad, after all. Also, following the Czech news carefully, as she had advised, had given me a leg up on the issues, as well as the kind of stories likely to appeal to Post editors.

Still, everyone has to start somewhere. It was Andy who had helped me get my feet on the ground. So my advice, in terms of editors, is to shop around. One editor might say, ‘Get out of here, kid, you bother me.’ But you never know what the next one will say.

And finally, look around, listen: You never know when a great story is sitting right next to you on the bus.

James Tressler, a journalist and novelist whose books include “Lost Coast D.A.” and “Letters from Istanbul, Vol. 1, is a former Times-Standard reporter. He lives in Istanbul.


Humboldt Co. Sheriff’s Deputy Confronted by Group of Angry Transients in Garberville, 911 Call Needed to Bring the Officer Assistance

Kym Kemp / Saturday, Aug. 30 @ 7:50 p.m. / News

Photo caption: According to a witness, the first to be handcuffed was the man in the white hat. (Image provided by a reader.)

On Tuesday, August 26, a Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputy and a large number of transients became embroiled in a loud and hostile altercation that made several citizens fear for the officer’s safety. 911 was called to bring him assistance.

Southern Humboldt is a community increasingly divided about the large population of transients who camp near towns and frequent the streets. Some residents and business owners, citing anti-social behavior on the part of the homeless, have been trying to keep large groups of the homeless from congregating in clumps on the sidewalks and near the shops. According to Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Ray’s Food Place in Garberville has “an ongoing request to move people who loiter in their lot.”

In the late afternoon on Tuesday, a sheriff’s deputy, seeing a number of men with what he described as large backpacks and a possible open container of alcohol on Ray’s Food Place’s property, requested they move along. According to Knight, some of the men refused.

One, Knight said, “became agitated and did not do what he was told.” According to Knight, the officer detained that man in handcuffs. Then he detained another.

One person who provided the photo (see right) and preferred to be anonymous wrote, “[The] guy in [the] white hat didn’t speak English and got whooped by the cop…, so did another that yelled police brutality.” 

According to Knight, eight to ten other transients “started yelling, became hostile and refused to back up.”

“Passing motorists and pedestrians, several citizens got involved and came to the officer’s aid,” said Knight.

One of those who came to help the officer is Garberville firefighter, Alfred Williams.

Williams described what he saw to the Lost Coast Outpost. “We were just clearing a smoke check at the transient camp on Sprowel Creek Rd.” Williams said he heard “the officer call for back up code 3 … [I] saw him in front of Ray’s with 20+ [transients] yelling, photographing and videoing him.” Williams continued to describe the scene:

When l stopped there were 2 males detained and [the officer] was taking down a male he had directed multiple times to leave. I asked if he needed any assistance and he told me to watch one male who wasn’t detained and to try to keep the public at a safe distance until CHP arrived to assist.

People were yelling that he can’t do that to people and were mad at him taking the guy down but l personally didn’t see the officer do anything wrong or excessive. 

Williams said that he saw three CHP units arrive to assist the beleaguered deputy. Later, he believes, another sheriff’s vehicle arrived.

Sai McCrady, who works nearby, explained that when he arrived around 5:30 p.m. reinforcements for the officer had arrived. He said he saw multiple law enforcement on the scene. According to McCrady, there were many “police vehicles, mostly cruisers with at least one truck.” He described the scene looking like the “OK Corral standoff between a small force of Police and Transients.” 

Then, McCrady said that he also saw “many transients either being questioned or bystanding.” 

According to Williams, the tense standoff calmed down after the officer explained “his actions to some of the people complaining and l think they then understood his actions, or at least saw his point of view.”

Lt. Knight stated, “People were detained, but there were no arrests.”

What? You Missed Bigfoot Days? Take a Quick Look at All the Fun Here

Kym Kemp / Saturday, Aug. 30 @ 1:54 p.m. / Celebration

If you missed the craziness that is Willow Creek’s 54th annual parade and festival, then scroll down through this photo record of what you missed. If you did go, see if you were caught by the photographers.

For the record, the military type vehicles are not owned by the government but instead by a private citizen. Apparently, Willow Creek is now capable of withstanding a zombie invasion or any other apocalyptic scenario.

(We figure you all might have some captions, comments, or tagging to do so we numbered the photos to make referring to the correct one easier.)









Top photos by Scott Binder. Bottom provided by another reader.






Former HSU Geography Instructor Arrested on Child Pornography Charges After Months-Long Investigation

Hank Sims / Friday, Aug. 29 @ 3:57 p.m. / Crime

UPDATE, 5:29 p.m.: HSU has released a statement regarding the arrest of Christopher Haynes:

Humboldt State University police have been assisting the Department of Homeland Security and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office with an investigation of Christopher Haynes, who was arrested today on charges related to child pornography. Haynes is a former geography instructor at HSU. The University will continue to cooperate with local and federal authorities as needed. 

# # #

Original Post: The suspect, Chris Haynes, is a retired geography lecturer at HSU and a former recipient of the California Geographic Society’s annual “Outstanding Educator” award.

From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:

On 06-05-2014 the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the United States Department of Homeland Security ( D.H.S.) regarding Child Pornography being uploaded. A Sheriff’s Office Detective was assigned to the case and worked with the D.H.S. Cybercrimes unit The D.H.S. Agents told the Detective they were contacted by a website company that saw images of Child Pornography being posted and viewed on a server the website hosted. They provided the name of the server to D.H.S. who reviewed it and the contents. The server company provided I.P. addresses that were tracked down to individuals. One of those addresses belonged to a Christopher Steven Haynes, 64 years old, from Arcata.

The Sheriff Detective wrote a search warrant for Haynes residence and computer, which the detective served July 10, 2014 with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Humboldt State University Police and Arcata Police. During the search of the residence, the detective located and seized Haynes computer, a thumb and hard drive which Haynes provided to the detective. A Humboldt County District Attorney Office investigator conducted a forensic examination on the computer, hard drive and thumb drive, which revealed thousands of Child Pornography pictures and videos.

The detective wrote and obtained a Humboldt County Superior Court arrest warrant for Haynes for possession of matter depicting a minor engaging or simulating sexual conduct, sending or duplicating sexual content involving a minor, exchanging or distributing content involving a matter depicting sexual content involving a minor and sexual exploitation of a child.

On 08-29-2104, at approximately 12:00 p.m. Sheriff’s Detectives drove to Haynes home and arrested him on the felony arrest warrant. He was transported to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility where his bail was set at $100,000.00.

Anyone with information for the Sheriffs Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriffs Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriffs Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

Car Overturned on Wabash Near Costco

Hank Sims / Friday, Aug. 29 @ 3:11 p.m. / Crime

UPDATE, 4:05 p.m.:


Submitted photo.

LoCO readers and KWPT listeners are alerting us to a bit of a traffic situation in Eureka. See above.

You might want to stay away from Wabash Avenue west of Broadway for a while. Traffic is pretty backed up, we hear.

We’ll see if we can find out any more information.

The Ukraine-Ukiah Connection: CAMP and Sheriff’s Office Take 4,412 Plants in Blocksburg

Hank Sims / Friday, Aug. 29 @ 2:01 p.m. / marijuana


From left to right: Anderson, Kulikovskyi and Kozlenko

From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office: 

On 08-28-2014, at approximately 9:00 a.m. Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputies assisted by Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, served two Humboldt County Superior Court search warrants in the Blocksburg area of Humboldt County. When they deputies arrived, they located three suspects living in three travel trailers on the property near marijuana plants. Those suspects were detained and were identified as Steven Eric Anderson, 47 years old, from Ukiah, Viktor Kulikovskyi, 22 years old, from Ukraine and Roman Kozlenko, 23 years old, also from Ukraine. Both the Ukrainian men told the deputies they have been in the United States about three years and are in the United States on student work Visas.

When the deputies searched the property, they located 4,412 growing marijuana plants that ranged in size from one foot to 10 feet tall, approximately six pounds of processed marijuana bud, evidence the marijuana was being sold, and numerous chemicals and fertilizers that were being used on the marijuana plants. Some of the plants were grown in large greenhouses and others were outdoors. The deputies also located significant environmental damage to the area, including timber conversion and illegal roads. Large water tanks and water bladders were on the property and were being used to store water to water the marijuana plants.

The deputies have contacted Cal-Fire and California Fish and Wildlife regarding the environmental damage they witnessed, and will be forwarding the case to those agencies for possible additional charges.

All three men were arrested and transported to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility where they were booked on charges of cultivation, possession for sale and criminal conspiracy. Their bail was set at $25,000.00 each.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.







RIP, Zorro: A Look Back at Fortuna’s Asskicking Crime Canine

Andrew Goff / Friday, Aug. 29 @ 12:35 p.m. / Obits

Good boy, Zorro.

After a brief press release/eulogy courtesy of the Fortuna Police Department, please revisit some of Zorro’s most heroic bad guy apprehensions in the links provided:

It is with heavy hearts that the Fortuna Police Department reports that K-9 Zorro passed away on 8/28/2014, after a brief illness.

In July of 2006, the Fortuna Police Department activated its K-9 program. At that time the department selected Officer Jason Kadle to be the K-9 handler and purchased K-9 Zorro, a black German Sheppard, from Master K-9 in San Bernardino. Zorro was born and trained in Germany prior to working as a K-9 in Fortuna.

During Zorro’s working life, he assisted in hundreds of apprehensions and assisted nearly every law enforcement agency in the county with tracking and apprehending suspects. Zorro was part of the team at the Fortuna Police Department. Zorro and his handler were very involved in reaching out to the community and would often visit local schools and civic organizations to meet the residents of Fortuna and put on demonstrations of his handler protection skills.

Officer Kadle and Zorro worked as a K-9 team for 8 years, until Zorro retired in April of 2014. After retirement, Zorro remained a part of the Kadle family as a family pet. Zorro will truly be missed by his police family and the entire Fortuna community.