The last bastion of ‘serious’ journalism | Karl Stennienibarra

Following the revamp of the country’s ‘only serious’ news site, we speak to Bis-Serjeta’s editor and head journalist Karl Stennienibarra.

An artist’s impression of Karl Stennienibarra, or rather an image he stole off Google and gave us.
An artist’s impression of Karl Stennienibarra, or rather an image he stole off Google and gave us.

What is your background? How did you hone your journalistic talents?

First of all let me say how much I appreciate that a satirical newspaper such as yours decided to stop joking around for a bit and interview a serious person like me. We tried to get an interview with the Times but they're very adamant about sticking to their ridiculous image. How we all laughed at the stock image of the kitchen knife...

I first entered the world of journalism at the age of 12. My father worked at TVM, in the quality control department (he actually worked in waste management but it's the same office). He managed to get me a job trimming Reno Bugeja's nose hair. Now that was a dissett, I can tell you.

After I graduated, I worked for a time with a local newspaper. However I soon realised that following ministers around while they held stand-up comedy press conferences was not my idea of serious journalism.

I travelled to the Middle East, which has a reputation for being very serious. There I was recruited by Al Hanzeera, a news agency focusing on news for pigs, who are somewhat under represented in the media of that part of the world.

How did you hone your craft?

While the world's gaze was fixed on the Arab Spring, I was busy covering the less-widely-reported Porcine Uprising of Kuwait. The local swine had had enough of being treated as second class animals, and wished to be eaten like everyone else.

It was here that I met young Kamal al Shadeen, the five-year-old grandson of the Emir. I was in the royal palace, reading a Maltese magazine while waiting to interview the Emir, when Kamal, upon seeing a picture of Claire Busuttil, Malta's Miss World 2011, exclaimed, "who is this wondrous jewel of the night?" He vowed to me that he would offer the riches of his pocket money - which amount to double Malta's GDP - if I could bring her to him.

When I returned to Malta I knew that I had to replicate the seriousness I found in the east. Perhaps not going as far as chopping off the hands of thieves, but pretty close. And so, Bis-Serjetà was born.

For months we have had to make do with precious little funds, owing mainly to my penchant for buying antique pencil sharpeners, which did you know were invented 50 years after the pencil?

Then last week, I finally managed to secure funding for a brand new website, by luring the model into a wooden crate with a trail of sushi and sparrows. I then shipped her to Kuwait, where she is now happily betrothed to the five-year-old princeling.

Tell us how Bis-Serjetà's scored its first big scoop...

The very first scoop that we ever got was when Queen Elizabeth II had accidentally given Malta to Will and Kate as a wedding gift because she thought it was still a British colony. We got the story because I was actually invited to the royal wedding. Though now fallen on hard times, partly due to my sharpener addiction, the Stennienibarras were once a proud and noble Maltese family. Imagine my surprise when we got the invite through Facebook.

So I was at the ceremony admiring Pippa Middleton's... hairstyle, when Prince William started reading out a letter from his grandmother, saying how much she and Prince Philip had enjoyed frolicking all over the island. The Maltese ambassador objected, put was promptly called a 'bloody Arab' by Prince Philip and chucked out.


Your surname bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a member of MaltaToday's own newsroom - are the two of you related in any way?

Yes, many people confuse me with one of your journalists who has a similar name. This is no coincidence, as the Stennienibarras and Stagno Navarras used to be the same family, until the latter got fed up of people constantly waiting outside for them, and so changed their surname. Filthy traitors.

To date, what is your favourite article on Bis-Serjetà?

There are a few, but because it's the one that brought Bis-Serjetà to many people's attention, it has to be the interview with Doris Borg, the 100-year-old prostitute. What a woman. I don't know how she does it. Frankly, I don't want to know how she does it.

There was also the story of Ben Iguana Malizia, the 20-something Sliema resident who was wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Thankfully, Ben was recently released and is once again getting 'żibel' at Ryan's. He's currently planning a backpacking trip to Syria.

What's your take on the current political situation?

It's my favourite show ever! The characters are so complex. Take Franco Debono, for instance. Is he good? Is he bad? I love how he's morally ambiguous. You're always wondering what he'll do next, and last Wednesday's episode didn't disappoint. I felt sorry for Carm Mifsud Bonnici though. When he became Minister for Home Affairs, I doubt he expected he'd actually have to stay at home.

Although, sometimes I wonder if the characters are all just screwing with us.

Who's your favourite minister?

My favourite minister is Dolores Cristina. Dolly, if you're reading this, please reply to my texts and calls. We were meant for each other. Also, I hope you liked the effigy of you that I made out of bigilla.

What do you make of the public reaction to Bis-Serjetà?

I have no idea why some people find our work funny. Then again, I suppose it's to be expected from a population so used to being fed on a diet of silly journalism. What we find fascinating is that the few bright minds that recognise our work as being completely serious are mercilessly ridiculed by the rest. Take the Doris Borg story. A friend of mine was at work when a colleague pointed out the article to her. Inexplicably, our friend told her colleague that the story was a joke, to which the intelligent colleague replied:

"But the website is called Bis-Serjetà, so it must be real!" We need people like that running the country.

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