From the opinions of colleagues and comments on the networks, it can be said without sounding like a joke that Gemma Nierga (Girona, 1965) is a journalist who is well liked. We met on a terrace in Poblenou, the neighborhood where she lives and just a few meters from the headquarters of RNE in Barcelona, where there is also the set of ‘Cafè d’Idees’, the program with which the Catalan journalist has emerged as a skilled interviewer to politicians of all colors.
One of the things that helps her is that she listens, something that should be normal in interviews but doesn’t always happen. She attributes this to the experience of having talked to anonymous people for years. As he listens, he asks questions, and that’s where the headlines tend to come from. José Martí Gómez has taught him many things and one of them was never to ask questions to show off. Because if the question is not going to lead you to a good answer, you don’t need to ask it.
From his mother, now deceased, he admired values such as humility. Her father is still a person who never gives up. A tenacity that the journalist has inherited and that, as she says in this conversation, she has applied in the worst moments.
One of the phrases that circulates among Catalan journalists is that, if a politician doesn’t get a headline out of Nierga, it’s because nobody gets it. Is there a trick?
One thing I like to do is to think of the politician as a person. It’s something we journalists sometimes forget. I suppose that having interviewed so many anonymous people in my life, I’ve got used to talking to real people and now when I have a politician in front of me I never forget that he is also a real person. It’s also knowing that he comes to say one thing but probably thinks something else. Our job as journalists is always to try to find out what is beyond the slogan.
If the interviewee is a politician, do you ask different questions?
I don’t think so. I try to organise my interviews in the same way, as we all do, documenting myself, trying to find out a lot of things about the character. And once you have them in front of you, not to be afraid. Sometimes I confuse fearor with respect and I think that I won’t ask certain things so as not to offend. So what I have done is to force myself to ask all those questions that I had a certain amount of respect for asking. Even in those cases where I had doubts. I always thought it would be better to apologise, which I didn’t, than to go home with a question I didn’t ask. When I finish the interview and give way to the interviewers, they always make me see things and I think, “too bad, I should have asked this again”.
Interview time is limited.
Yes, but that feeling is something that stays with me. This attempt to make sure you don’t miss the cross-examination, which is really where we get the headlines.
Do you remember any particularly tricky ones?
The one about Carles Puigdemont. Because I didn’t have him in front of me and that day I realised how important it is to listen to the politician breathe. For me it is essential to look the interviewee in the eye, I try to lower my gaze as little as possible to consult the questions, although I do it because I try to prepare them very well. I draw the interviews, just like Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya did with the circuit in a rally. I know how I want to start, how I want to finish and the bends I’ll have in between. There are questions that are complicated curves and I know how I want to approach them. I mentioned Puigdemont’s question because not having him in front of me makes it difficult to cross-examine and it becomes a questionnaire that they answer. We are not here for the politician to explain himself but to supervise him and the only way to do this is by cross-examining.
In addition, in the case of Puigdemont it was accompanied by political controversy because PP, Ciudadanos and Vox criticized that he was interviewed on TVE.
The director of TVE in Catalonia at that time, Pere Buhigas, had to answer parliamentary questions and it was resolved. It was more than justified that we interviewed the former president of the Generalitat, who continues to have a great influence in Catalan politics, and who at that time was also the author of some books that have been very well sold in Catalonia.
And more recently, what a mess was made of the interview with the president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi.
Oh, what a mess! </p>
During that interview, were you aware of what you were saying about pardons?
This is a clear example of what we were talking about before. Prepare well for the interview, know what he’s going to say for 25 minutes on a number of issues, minimum wage and others in the economic sphere, where I know what he’s going to say because I’ve done my research. But there will be five minutes when I don’t know where he’s going to go and at that moment I’d like to find the person, not the slogan he’s going to give. In this case it was very clear to me that it was the issue of pardons. We had come from the president of the Cercle d’Economia, Javier Faus, positioning himself in favour and it seemed to us that our question should begin by referring to that statement. This is where the most genuine Garamendi came out. All he said was: “If they serve to solve the problem, they are welcome”. But, what a mess that was. We are so unaccustomed to them saying what they really think
And then there were politicians who twisted the phrase and even criticised him for things he didn’t say
Exactly, he only said that if they were useful, they were welcome. I was very grateful for that interview because it’s not easy for the president of the CEOE to come here, to Ràdio 4, to TVE’s 2 in Catalan, a humble space that we have built very little by little. He left happy. When the interview ended, he was not sorry for anything he had said.
When I have a politician in front of me I never forget that he is a real person.
Ministers, councillors, influential people from the economic sphere? They were not the kind of interviewees associated with his career. Do you have the feeling that he has reinvented himself?
Yes, I have the feeling that I have reinvented myself. I also visualize it with meetings I had with colleagues who are used to following political information to see where you were breathing, where I had to document myself and where to find sources, which was something that worried me. I felt very lost and I clearly have the feeling that I have reinvented myself. It’s not a verb I use a lot but I’ll buy that. At the age of 52 a very long, very solid professional stage came to an end, one that I saw as very secure, and when I saw myself out in the open I knew I had to look for ropes to hold on to in order to build another professional path. Every rope that someone threw me, I took it. If it was Ricard Ustrell to go to Catalunya Ràdio
, I took it, if it was to go to Madrid for Màxim Huerta’s programme, I took it too. On 8TV I did some interviews with politicians that later became articles here in elDiario.es.
I was aware that all these were small windows that were opening up to me, that perhaps would not lead me to anything in particular, but they showed me a way. And politics was very present. When Ràdio 4 asked me to do political interviews, I jumped at the chance. I’m not ashamed to say that I wasn’t sure of the names of the ministers of the Government because I knew much more about Spanish politics. I took the photos of all of them, I learnt them, I prepared myself and I decided that I would interview them all.
You say that when other things fail you, you use your intuition. Is that what you did when you left the Ser?
Yes, at that moment I was offered many possibilities and I had to use my intuition. When I was fired I was very emotional and, therefore, very weak. I was offered some jobs that I felt I didn’t feel like doing and I had to say no. But at the same time I have a family and a job. But at the same time I have a family and I needed to work. I thought a lot about the fact that I couldn’t go back to doing the same old thing, I couldn’t go back to doing the same magazine on another radio station. I knew that if I did that, I would get bored. Probably in recent times I was already tired and when that happens you don’t transmit illusion, because you don’t have energy. In those moments I didn’t have it and I needed something to connect and recharge it. I got a job in which I have the feeling of having started from scratch, that every day I’m learning. It’s the feeling of doing it a little better every day, of feeling a little more confident every day.
When I was fired from the Ser I was very touched emotionally and therefore very weak.
Your time at the Ser is associated with writers, journalists and philosophers who were collaborators but also friends, those who took part in the end-of-season parties that you organised at your house until the wee hours of the morning. They are names that form part of a collective imaginary. What is Juan José Millás like?
He’s the most original person I’ve ever met. He is unique. His way of looking at the world is different. There is no one else like Juan José Millás. Maybe only Juan Carlos Ortega can resemble him a little because they are both people who are different from any other model of person you know.
It’s the wit. It’s the wordto fast, the collaborator who gives you the brightest replica you want at that moment.
The funniest. Being with him makes me happy. Boris has made me laugh in dramatic situations. The day of the demonstration to condemn the assassination of Ernest Lluch, the day of the “you who can, dialogue” was a night with many calls. Some congratulating me for having said it, others asking me why I had said it, others telling me that I shouldn’t have said it… And at three in the morning came the call from Boris: “My love, the red leather jacket is a success, and I’ve seen very good hair”. At that moment I thought that only someone like him could be able to make me laugh in one of the most terrible and dramatic days of my life.
Do you still remember it as one of the most terrible days of your life?
Yes, I do. That week I had a 4 year old nephew dying of cancer in the Vall d’Hebron and then Ernest’s murder. My head couldn’t take it, I couldn’t understand that life was so extremely unfair. The day of the demonstration was an explosion of pain and at the same time a tribute to Ernest. It was a mixture of pain and pride. I was proud then and now that almost 21 years have passed I am still proud to have said it.
Was the phrase written down or was it an improvisation?
I was carrying the manifesto of the town hall and I added at the end of the text, with a ballpoint pen, that “now I’ll say it in Spanish so that everyone understands me, I’m sure that Ernest would have spoken to the person who killed him…”. I wrote it all by hand. I still have it.
Do you miss “wise men” gatherings like the one Carrillo, Herrero de Miñón and Pere Portabella used to have on your programme?
Yes, absolutely. First it was Lluch, Carrillo and Herrero de Miñón and when Ernest was killed, Portabella joined. In fact, Ernest started it because he had an Economics section and I told him that we had to give it a spin. One summer he took me to a pizzeria in Madrid and that’s where I met Carrillo and Herrero de Miñón. At Carrillo’s funeral I cried a lot because I always felt very close to him and Miguel. Because of my age I didn’t live the political moment of consensus in which they were protagonists but thanks to them I was able to relive it. You could invite Martín Villa and have him say to Carrillo: “I arrested you Santiago, do you remember?” while Carrillo replied: “Yes, but I wore a wig so you wouldn’t catch me at the border”. I don’t want to vindicate the ’78 regime but those years of understanding.s political adversaries.
One last name of those who were part of that family of La Ventana: Judith Mascó.
I discovered the person behind such an intimidating beauty. The first time I spoke to her to hire her for the show I was intimidated by her beauty, but after a few minutes we were talking about life and I discovered that the person was even more beautiful than her physique. I remember at one of La Ventana’s end of season parties she ended up parading in the dining room of my house after Boris asked her please we wanted to see a top model walking like on the catwalk.
Does she still get nervous before the live show? Is it nerves or respect?
No, it’s not respect, it’s nerves. I was a 10 year old girl who always raised my arm when the nun asked who wanted to read the reading at mass. On the way from the classroom to Mass, I would faint. I would faint from nerves and it’s something that has happened to me a lot throughout my life. I wanted to present La Ventana and ten minutes before I was on the floor thinking “how could I say yes to this”. It could be because of the responsibility. People who are such perfectionists never quite like anything. Doctor Corbella gave me some advice: “The day you understand that you don’t have to reach this imaginary level that you have, but that it’s very correct to stay at an 8.5, you’ll be happier”. It has cost me a lot, but I have understood that with an 8’5 I can be happy. When I look back, I realise that I didn’t tolerate my team’s mistakes very much and I see how well I tolerate them now. I feel very good because I have understood that imperfection accompanies us in life.
In the manifesto for Ernest Lluch I added in pen that ‘now I’ll say it in Spanish so that everyone can understand me…’. I still keep it
Gemma Nierga’s days now start at five in the morning. It’s the time of the repeats on the radio. She likes ‘Tu diràs’ on RAC1, a lighthearted and fun version of sports news. From 87.7 he switches to 92.0, Catalunya Informació, the one that every journalist who works in a Catalan morning show puts on first thing in the morning to refresh information and find out if anything has happened during the night. At 6 o’clock, ready to go to the newsroom, he listens to ‘Las Mañanas de RNE with Íñigo Alfonso and Carlos Alsina on Onda Cero. This gives him an overview of what’s happening in Catalonia and Madrid. Because news agendas don’t always coincide, which he defines as different “mental frameworks”.
Does journalism in Madrid differ from journalism in Barcelona?
I don’t think it’s any different. I use the expression “mental framework” because here the procés has meant that for some years we have been living in a wheel of information, with concepts and a way of dealing with issues that are approached differently from Madrid. From here sometimes the approach from there is not understood and the other way around.
You wrote a book about the president of Òmnium, Jordi Cuixart, something that came as a surprise because he is not exactly in the pro-independence camp. Why did you agree to do it?
Marcel Mauri [vice-president of Òmnium] asked me to do it on behalf of Jordi Cuixart. He told me that he wanted to write a book in Catalan and Spanish because he wanted the rest of Spain to know about it, and that it should be written by someone who wasn’t a member of the pro-independence movement. At first I wrinkled my nose a bit because I don’t define myself as one thing or the other. I have never wanted to place myself on one side and I asked not to be placed on any side. Journalists are there to inform and the less people know about what we think, the better. The opposite invalidates us because we are here to ask questions, not to make policy. And that’s what I decided to do. I said “OK, I’ll go and ask Cuixart questions”. That allowed me, as a journalist, to get closer to the world of independence and to get to know that reality. I was glad I accepted because I managed to get closer to that world and at the same time I made two friends, Cuixart and Mauri.