20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: 15. Running an English News Portal

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I have been out of my depth many times in my life. Running a humanitarian aid distribution operation on the edge of Siberia over an area the size of Germany (but without the infrastructure or communications) was an early highlight, to be surpassed by being given a project to organise the distribution of food, seeds and tools to 600,000 returning refugees and internally displaced people in eastern Rwanda on my second day in Africa two weeks after the genocide.


Being warmly greeted in 1992 at one of Russia’s premier and secret military technology facilities outside Moscow with the words – Mr. Bradbury, we are delighted to have you here. Last month, we had a delegation the US Department of Defense, last week from the Israeli Defence Force, yesterday NASA, and here you are, our first British client. And without doubt, teaching English one-to-one to a Japanese 2-year-old sitting on his mother’s knee in Hiroshima – never have 60 minutes been so long. 


And then there was the case of running an English-language news portal in Croatia. 

Over the last 7 years, I have read so many conspiracy theories about who is behind TCN – Putin, Soros, Greater Serbia, sometimes all three at the same time – how I am working for MI6, CIA, Mossad, Greater Serbia and FSB, and the millions bankrolling the portal that I am honestly in awe of how seriously people take TCN and the motives behind it. 

I just wish the money bit was true…

If only they knew that it was conceived over a cold one in Jelsa by a Brit who really didn’t have a clue about Croatia apart from his adopted island of Hvar, the area around Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and Zagreb bus and train station, despite living in Croatia for 13 years.

So good was I that when I interviewed the then President Josipovic for Google News in his reelection campaign for a Canadian news portal, I had no idea which political party he was in.

But I saw an opportunity, for although Croatia had been in the EU since 2013, there was no regular English-language news portal. How hard could it be?

I roped in a couple of colleagues who were bilingual and knew Croatia much better than me, and we decided to give it a go. I called in a few favours with friends all over the country and asked them to contribute an article or two to make us look bigger than we were. I got a little financial help and some mentoring from two Croatian friends, and in early July, 2015, we were good to go.

In order to show how serious this new portal was, I worked hard to get some good initial interviews. The South Korean Ambassador was kind enough to give me an interview on the rise of Korean tourists to Croatia. But I wanted a really marquee interview to impress the world to announce our arrival, and I was particularly keen to woo the diaspora. As many did not speak Croatian, TCN should become their natural home for news about their homeland. How to impress them on Day 1?

Did I mention that I did not know anything about Croatia apart from my own little bubble when I started TCN?

I also knew nothing about the diaspora, or how diverse it was, or how passionate. That the diaspora in New Zealand was more Dalmatian than Croatian and had its origins in economic decline due to the devastating phylloxera and punitive taxes on wine by the Austro-Hungarians in the 19th century, while a major part of the Australian diaspora had its roots in fleeing Europe in 1945 and persecution by Tito into the 1960s and beyond. Two very different Croatias growing up in two countries the other side of the world. 

I was unaware of any of this as I proudly completed my first star interview, with the then Croatian Foreign Minister. How impressive was that?


I proudly presented my star article for the first day, an exclusive interview with Vesna Pusic, complete with photo in the Foreign Minister’s office. 

I was pleased with myself, poured myself a cold one, and sat back to watch the favourable feedback, particularly from the diaspora audience I was so keen to cultivate. 

“What is this Commie, Tito-loving garbage of a page? Probably funded by MI6. Unliking this page immediately.” A summary of about 30 comments which left me severely deflated. What was wrong with Vesna Pusic? 


It was the beginning of a 7-year love affair with my online trolls which we covered in a previous chapter – mostly from Australia – and who collectively have created my tombstone epitaph, of which I am immensely proud – ‘Tito cock-sucking British Jew writing fluff to humanise mass murderers in the Jewish style when socially engineering a people for ruin.’

Beat that!

And so began a crash course in Croatian politics, which is VERY complicated. I learned the importance of having to identify where you were in 1991, for example, a date when true patriots were counted fighting for the homeland.  

27858249_10156289396339073_136618864424558441_n.jpgJust what the hell had I gotten myself into?

And then my first exclusive! And quite a good one too.


Late one night, I got a message that Demi Moore was on Hvar. I checked the usual channels – Twitter etc. – and nobody had the story. I also had a photo from social media and so published. It was the first adrenaline rush from Google Analytics Real Time (a feeling I have come to know well over the years). Disappointingly, most of the Croatian media chose not to link back to my story (something I got VERY used to very quickly), but I was starting to get noticed. 


 We stumbled on, gradually finding our feet, and by the time he had been live 6 months, we were featured in the national media, including a statistic of which I was very proud – according to Google Analytics, we had been read in every country in the world, except North Korea.

Part of being noticed as a portal meant that the national media was starting to follow what we were putting out on a daily basis – the Demi Moore exclusive had perhaps made us worth following. I had already had my first taste of the media deciding to make you the story without your knowledge a couple of years earlier, when I was sent the link below, which roughly translates as Boy George performed on Hvar, a famous blogger claims: “What an idiot!” 


My blog about Boy George keeping the media waiting until 3am and then only allowing us one question each (at which point I said I had no questions) had been picked up by the national media. At least I had the title of ‘Famous Blogger.’


But nothing showed me the power (and uncontrollability – if that is even a word) of this new medium than a small little incident that was observed only by me in mid-December 2015 on a very sunny day on the main square in Jelsa.  

There was quite an uproar in town after the Christmas decorations went up on the main square. The main star in the middle of the square as you entered was a 5-pointed star. Perfectly innocent to you and me, but an obvious Communist subversion to some. There was even a rumour that the star would be replaced with a star of Bethlehem to appease the right wing. The following day I saw two men loitering with a ladder, clearly up to something, but as the square was quite busy, they seemingly put on hold whatever they were planning. 

Until, at least, everyone had left the square for lunch except for one person – me. Ordering another cold one, I watched in disbelief, snapping all the way with my phone, as they removed the offending star and replaced it with Bethlehem. 

“What are you doing?” I asked innocently. “Is changing the star some kind of tradition?”

“We do not celebrate Communism here,” came the gruff response.

What a title! A title that was the top story all over Croatia within 6 hours. And the story ran for WEEKS locally, with me making a cameo appearance at the political sketch in the Carnival some months later. The Mayor was in a political pickle – if he reinstated the star, he would be a Communist, and if he kept the star of Bethlehem, he would be an anti-Communist. He decided to compromise on having both stars. 

“I wouldn’t do that,” I advised. “If you do, you will be announcing Jelsa as officially Croatia’s first 2-star destination, hardly a great promo.”

I also found a little niche of constructive criticism. The Croatian media and Croatian readers seemed to be interested in the views of a resident foreigner, and I found myself appearing in the media more. I found also that my foreign eye with (increasing) local knowledge gave me a different perspective on things, and I started to take more of a critical view of things as I saw them, particularly regarding Croatian tourism. 


I published my critical appreciation of the Croatian National Tourist Board’s flagship project, Croatia 365 at midnight on a Sunday, waking up to over 6,000 views and 7 messages in my inbox 6 hours later – all from Croatian media asking for a quote. And there we were, story of the day again

There were also two phone calls, which led to two coffees the next day – one from the PA of the Minister of Tourism, and one from the then Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Ratomir Ivicic. It was the last time I met or was invited to meet a director of CNTB – the closest I have come since was being in the same courtroom, as we both gave evidence about a meme, one of two ongoing lawsuits against me from the national tourist board. You can follow my two ongoing lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board in Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, which will probably be a blog which will outlast TCN and be resolved in Strasbourg in 2063.


(TCN 2019 Xmas party… in March 2021, a symbol of my inefficiency)

Writers came and went. I readily admit that I am the most disorganised person in the world. A project which started with a beer and a laptop in Jelsa in 2011 with me in charge was going to struggle with growing pains. Thankfully, 2016 was a golden year for TCN. Three young ladies joined the team, and they all put their mark on things very quickly, getting me organised, bringing different perspectives, and crucially a much better understanding of Croatia than I possessed. Many have come and gone since – TCN and its devolved chaos is not for everyone – but Lauren Simmonds, Daniela Rogulj and Iva Tatic have been beyond magnificent, eventually telling me that they would run TCN much better without me in control. We tried it, and they were absolutely right. 

Lauren is currently TCN editor, the best and quickest translator I have ever come across, who takes particular pleasure in the intricate workings of MUP bureaucracy. Her authoritative guides to residency issues are much appreciated by many, and she holds the record for the longest ever TCN article, a 10,000-word ode to Agrokor, which was utterly brilliant. 

Dani is a Californian Dalmatinka who has really grown with TCN, and who has been the engine keeping it going from the moment she started. An incredibly capable all-rounder, with the best work ethic I have ever come across, she has blossomed in so many ways, from mentor to other writers and interns, to developing her name as a serious sports writer in the Croatian space. From press season-ticket holder at her beloved Hajduk, to the national stage. Seeing her reporting from Wembley, live on Talk Sport radio in London, and reporting for TCN at the Euros is a reminder of just how far TCN and Dani have come. She has really done a fantastic and comprehensive job on all sports, and I look forward to Dani’s take reporting for TCN as an accredited journalist live from the World Cup in Qatar later this year. 

Iva is also another excellent all-rounder, available to plug the considerable gaps at TCN where they appear. I have never met anyone in Croatia who knows as much on every subject as Iva, and her no-nonsense approach and organisation has made us a better unit overall.


(TCN core team, from right to left – Daniela Rogulj, Iva Tatic, and Lauren Simmonds)

To the three of you – and all other TCN writers over the years – thank you for all your efforts. 

An invitation to give a seminar to journalism students at the University of Zagreb was a journey into unchartered waters but led to an ad hoc TCN intern programme. Only 9 students (and some suspicious chap at the back nobody knew) turned up to hear me drone on, but three of those applied to be interns. We have had about 20 interns since we started, with mixed results, but it has been heartening to see at least 5 of them now in journalism jobs. I most frequently see young Donatella at press conferences reporting for Lider – it is one of life’s tiny pleasures to see their careers evolving. 

Being 100% independent has meant that we are free to choose our topics and pursue our own initiatives, some of which take hold and bear the most prosperous fruit. It is great to see how far the digital nomad story has come since we started advocating for it back in 2019, and I am very proud that we introduced Jan de Jong to the concept of digital nomad tourism (see above) – what Jan and his team have achieved since has been nothing short of phenomenal. 

Ditto the partnership between TCN and Saltwater Nomads, the pioneers for me in the remote work space in Croatia. Tanja Polegubic has done fantastic things to lift Croatia’s profile, and TCN has been a proud co-organiser of the award-winning Zagreb Digital Nomad Week and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence programme (both Saltwater concepts), and we are looking forward to Zagreb Digital Nomad Week 2022 in October – details to be announced very soon.  

The longer we were around, the more interesting people we met, and inspirational pioneers such as Ognjen Bagatin unveiled a fascinating world of potential that I had no idea about – medical tourism. 

The Croatian medical tourism story is fascinating, and there is SO much potential – Croatia really does have a world-class offer. It was a TCN highlight to accompany Ognjen and Andrea to Berlin and watch Bagatin Clinic named Best International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year at the 2019 International Medical Travel Journal awards in Germany (see above). 


That was the second international flight of the year due to medical tourism, as my wife and I flew to Malaysia, where TCN picked an award at the inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards in Kuala Lumpur.

This happened shortly after my 50th birthday when I was coming to terms that I would perhaps achieve nothing in life. And then in the space of a few weeks, I won the medical travel award in Malaysia, was a published author in The Daily Telegraph, and – most unbelievably of all – started my career as a male model as the 22nd model in the fabulous Varteks campaign, Imperfect Guy in a Perfect Suit. When I learned that I was actually the first international male model in the company’s 100-year history, my life was complete. 

If there is a better job in the world than this – or one more random – I am yet to find it. 


The more I got to know Croatia, the more I realised that the much more interesting stories lay away from the beach, and away from tourism. The nepotism and corruption and the status quo were the main factors behind the mass emigration, but it was only one part of the story. For there were so many good stories happening in Croatia, of young people staying and trying to make things work, despite the negativity. I came to realise that there is a default negative mindset in Croatia, where every new positive initiative is met with skepticism. Yes, it may work in every country in the world, but this is Croatia…


Attempting to inject a little positivity into the default negative mindset has been a fascinating little project for TCN, and we have had some successes. I was very honoured to be invited to speak at the excellent LEAP Summit on the topic Injecting Positivity into the Default Negative Croatian Mindset, which you can see above. 

TCN’s finest hour? Without a doubt March and April of 2020 when Dani and Lauren soared above their usual high standards, and together we knuckled down and did what we could to survive. Having lost almost every client overnight, Adsense was keeping us alive, and we decided to be the best resource out there for COVID-19 info, including live updates. It was punishing, but appreciated by many. And then, when we almost couldn’t anymore, the devastating March 22 earthquake in Zagreb, which hit at 06:24 in the morning. I was already up and reporting on COVID when I got the first call in bed on Hvar at 06:25. By 06:39, we had broken the story in English on Google News, a story which was read by almost 150,000 people. The cooperation and teamwork with Dani and Lauren in those weeks was the best of my professional life. 

And how could I fail to mention what was the most pressured but most rewarding TCN project of all, the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community, which was the only English-language resource in real time for COVID for a while, the brainchild of Kresimir Macan. It taught me so much, caused endless stress, but enabled thousands to visit Croatia during the pandemic. To receive 7 international awards, including from Polaris in London, was a proud moment indeed. 


And there were some scary and very unpleasant moments along the route, not least in my beloved hometown of Jelsa, when I published a very well-researched analysis on the shady side of a public tender. The mayor (he of the 2-star destination above) was so incensed that he announced in a public meeting that he was suing me, as you can see below.

He never did, but things did get very unpleasant, so much so in fact that I ended up writing an open letter to the Prime Minister. And PM Plenkovic was generous enough to call me over for a chat, and even promised that he would never sue me.

And – so far – he has been true to his word. Thanks, PM.


Seven years later, we are still not read in North Korea, and I still don’t really know what I am doing, but TCN continues to thrive thanks to our fabulous team and loyal readers (and big shout out to the trolls, who keep us smiling). Croatia is changing, and so is TCN’s direction – away from a focus on tourism into the world of business, entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and remote work. 

There are many stories to be told, many initiatives to push, and a lot of fun to be had on the way. To the many people who have been a part of the TCN journey – including those with whom I have had differences – my heartfelt thanks. Having the best job in the world and enjoying the best lifestyle in the world is an incredible experience. Thank you for your part in that. 


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book


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