Hanno Settele was born in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg, where he first worked for Austrian Public Broadcasting (ORF) both in radio and television. After moving to Vienna, he held several positions within ORF headquarters, ranging from the domestic politics desk for both TV and radio to the weekly television format Report and the main TV news format Zeit im Bild. Hanno Settele served as correspondent in Washington, D.C. from 2003 until 2006, and directed the ORF office in Washington, D.C. from 2007 until 2012. Upon his return to Vienna, Anja Mayer had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Settele about some of his impressions during his time in the United States.
Could you tell us a little bit about where you were born and where you grew up?
I was born in Vorarlberg, Austria’s westernmost state. The youngest of three children, I was always curious and sometimes nosy. I was fascinated by that thing that was delivered to our house daily, and still looked different every time around: the newspaper.
Did you always want to become a journalist?
It was the decision between law or journalism, nothing to the left and nothing to the right.
How did you end up working as a foreign correspondent?
After going through various positions at ORF, Austria’s public broadcasting company, I tried to make a dream of mine come true: to work in the U.S. as a foreign correspondent. I applied for the job as junior correspondent in 2003. To the surprise of a lot of colleagues and especially myself I got it!
What is the most exciting part of your job? Being able to observe American politics without any bias or having to consider certain vested interests. No “Austrian positions” have to be taken into consideration. The U.S. is not the EU, where you always have to take into account what the Austrian point of view is. It is a very liberating experience – tell it as it is or at least as you perceive it.
Can you share some of the most interesting experiences you had during your time in the U.S.? Any special stories to tell?
Having been here for almost a decade, I have come around my fair share of experiences. Two weeks in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina have left lasting memories. As have three presidential campaigns. Being able to cover the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, was very special. Journalists always want to be where history is being made.
In what way is working as a journalist different here as compared to Austria?
ORF is the leading electronic media outlet in Austria. So interviews are easy to get and access to prime sources is readily available. Not so much in the U.S., however. It is a humbling experience.
How would you compare the role of the media in the U.S. as opposed to Europe?
I can’t speak about all of Europe, since I have worked mainly in Austria before coming to the U.S. The U.S. media keep more distance to the objects of their reporting and are, of course, much more diversified and abundant. The periodicals/newspapersection at a Barnes&Noble is a heaven on earth.
What have you found different about life here in the U.S.? What not?
To live in and especially to understand the U.S. requires completely different social codes than in Austria. After being here for two weeks, a complete stranger, who I met at a dinner party, asked me how much money I make. And that was only the beginning….
Do you have any favorite places in the U.S.?
Yes, especially the Southwest of the U.S.: Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Unfortunately, your time as an ORF correspondent in the U.S. is ending soon. What, if anything, will you miss when you leave?
I will miss the diversity of people that I met every day and the respect that is being extended to children in everyday-life situations. Furthermore, the incredible quality of TV-productions, be it fiction or even sports. I will also miss the weather – yes, I like it hot. And being my own boss, of course.
What are you most looking forward to in Austria?
Above all, my family. They moved back in July already, because the kids have to go to school. Furthermore, I look forward to being able to drink mountain spring water straight out of the faucet in Vienna, a town of 1.7 million people. It will be nice to settle down a little – during almost ten years of living in Washington, D.C., we had to move three times. A new home every three years is not my style.
Can you tell us a little bit about your future aspirations as a journalist? What is in store for you?
I will return to the foreign desk at ORF headquarters in Vienna. I am looking forward to not having two cellphones on my nightstand anymore.