Q&A: Tevye Markson, Reading Chronicle

Born in Hackney, Tevye Markson went to university in Coventry and The Hague to study history and international relations before embarking on a career in journalism. In between finishing his studies and going back to do a journalism postgraduate diploma, he worked as a press officer and housing advisor for two London councils, including working with the victims of Grenfell. He also gained experience at the Camden New Journal and the Sunday Times. In 2018, having completed his diploma, he joined the Reading Chronicle as Reading’s first BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter, where he writes about all aspects of local life, a role he held until December 2021.

Also a music producer and DJ in his spare time, Tevye lives in East Reading and regularly plays football at Reading University SportsPark (or did, pre-Covid-19).

What have you missed most in lockdown?
Not seeing my girlfriend for more than three months was tough, as was not being able to see most of my friends and family.

How did you find yourself ending up in Reading? What were your first impressions of it?
I finished my journalism qualification a couple of years ago, and I applied for half a dozen jobs but the role as Local Democracy Reporter for Reading really stood out and luckily I got the job. I had previously been to Reading a few times for the festival as a teenager and once on a night out with a mate who is from Maidenhead, so I had only really had small glimpses of it. I guess my first impressions were of how many chain shops there are. It’s like a big shopping centre in the town centre. Part of me was concerned there would only be chains, as I like to try new things, but that hasn’t been the case.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
The one that really stands out as an experience was when I was eleven, travelling with my dad in Sicily. It was our last day and we only had a few hours before we needed to get to the airport. We were looking for one last meal and we’d read about an amazing place where you could get seven courses for less than twenty euros. We were searching all over for this place in the car but couldn’t find it.

I don’t remember how, but we ended up talking to a couple on a motorbike – they knew the place and showed us the way, but the restaurant was closed. But they said they knew another similar place, and took us there. The food was so good. We actually shared a meal, and it was easily enough food: seven courses of delicious seafood and fish dishes for about eighteen Euros with wine (and a Coca-Cola for me). Fantastic.

Where did you go for your first meal out after lockdown?
My first meal out after lockdown was in Paris, where my girlfriend lives. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant called Mémé Viet near her place. We had spring rolls to start, which you wrap in lettuce, stuff with different fresh herbs and dip in a tangy and sweet sauce. After that we each had a beef pho. I was quite limited in my cooking during lockdown, not wanting to visit big supermarkets initially, so I hadn’t eaten any east Asian food and I really fancied pho or ramen.

In a time of hyperlocal websites, blogs and real time social media, what role do you see for more traditional local media outlets?
Traditional news is as important as ever. You may hear about something first on social media, but you’ll still go to a qualified journalist to find out what really happened.

We need paid and qualified journalists spending time producing stories that are factual and legally sound. The work I do as a local democracy reporter is an example of how important local journalism is. I spend a lot of time making sure every decision the council makes is scrutinised as best as I can, making sure the people of Reading know what is going on in a way that is fair and respectful to all sides.

Hyperlocals can be great and I think there is room for both. Blogs often serve a different purpose to a traditional newspaper, focusing more closely on one subject matter (like Edible Reading) or a smaller area (like the Whitley Pump, which closed recently). Profitability and how to monetise news is a big issue, though.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Eating muffins for breakfast at a hotel in New York when I was five. Me and my brothers finished a big bowl of them by ourselves that was supposed to be for everyone. The hotel staff told us off. 

What’s your favourite city break destination?
I’ve been to Berlin three times and it is somewhere I’d like to visit again soon. There is a great variety of food (including amazing kebabs) great clubs and so much to see, and everything is much more affordable than other big cities like London and Paris. Also, German lager is the best kind of lager.

Which writers, living or dead, do you most admire?
I read books quite sporadically. Some of my favourite authors include James Joyce, Albert Camus, George Orwell, George RR Martin, Jon Ronson and Arthur Miller. 

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I studied history at university, focusing a lot on the Cold War. There are lots of moments that would be interesting to see, like the Cuban missile crisis or a divided Berlin. But if I were to live in this time travel fantasy, I’d like to go back to early 80s Chicago and the birth of house music.

What one restaurant do you wish you could pick up and drop in Reading?
Reading could do with a good ramen place. I like Kanada-Ya in London.

Has your job been made easier or more difficult in lockdown? How have the stories you’ve covered changed?
Coronavirus has made finding stories to write about easier as my role has expanded, although there’s always lots going on in Reading so I’m rarely short of ideas. It’s been difficult communicating, though.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
I mostly don’t watch films more than once, but Hot Fuzz is one film I continue to enjoy every time I watch it. But if I had to watch something over and over again it would probably be The Sopranos or The Wire.

What is your most unappealing habit?
When I enjoy food, I can eat very quickly and stop talking.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
I’m a big fan of eating just salted crisps and having dips with them. Is a Dorito a crisp? I’d go for Doritos with a hint of lime, or lightly salted Tyrrell’s.

Where is your happy place?
I create music using synths, samples and my voice and my happy place is me listening to a song I’ve just made over and over. Or the same thing when I hear a song or album that feels like it has been made for me. 

I thought your piece about Sykes Capital was one of the best things I’ve read in ages. Was that always the kind of journalism you wanted to do when you started in the profession?
The best things come when you spend a long time on them and that’s what I want to do. I’m very interested in doing as much investigative journalism as possible, digging deep into important issues that might not otherwise get the attention they deserve, and hopefully making a difference to people’s lives in a positive way.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Spicy food – because it doesn’t really agree with me, but I love it.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
The great independent places to eat food, the community feel and that mix of being urban but also so close to nature.

Tell us something people might not know about you.
I auditioned for Band Of Brothers when I was about six to play a Dutch kid who has never eaten chocolate before. They didn’t give you any chocolate, so that was pretty tough. I got a second audition but didn’t get the part, and they let me down gently by saying that the kid was supposed to be blonde. A few years later, the same casting director looked my family name up in the Yellow Pages to find me to audition for a film. I got to the final two but lost out to a kid who ended up being one of Ian Beale’s sons on EastEnders.  

Describe yourself in three words.
Caring, passionate and curious.


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