You took over the position of Director of News, Current Affairs and Sports at bTV in times of crisis - health, social, economic and information. Then came the war. How has the work of the professionals in your television changed in the last 2-3 years?
bTV newsroom has always been a place for quality journalism that adheres to world standards. In common terms, it means a combination of professionalism and passion for the profession. Outside the context of the war - the bTV editorial office is already staffed by troops. Everyone knows their place, the responsibility they carry and the result that must be achieved - sometimes with round-the-clock work - so that viewers can be informed and earn their trust. The battle for this trust is every minute of airtime, especially at a time when the truth must be fought for.
Journalism is always facing challenges, but for us as journalists, 2020 started with something unknown, but it seemed that COVID was just a prelude. 2021 caught up with the political crisis and three major election waves. 2022 began with the worst - the war. All this time the so-called infodemic flooded people from all sorts of channels - so the fight against untruth became an even more important cause for bTV journalists.
How over the years have you managed to withstand the inevitable pressure in its various forms - for corporate, political, personal interests?
It takes strength to withstand pressure, and it doesn't come while you're sitting on the couch. Power comes with independence and both are won in battles. Everyone will try to "intimidate" you with something - a rumor or a direct threat. If you know who you are as a professional and follow the rules - there is no other force in the world that can break you. However, this will not be possible without the support of the media owners. When you know that attempts at political and corporate influence have no place in the news, you can feel the true power of freedom as a journalist.
What does the term "truth" mean to you as a professional and as a person?
I want to believe that for the world we live in, the word truth is not just a concept that we will skillfully define, but a word whose meaning we feel with all its weight. Because the truth is something, you have to fight for. And they see the fruits of this battle in a healthy and strong society. And let's tell the truth - we are a society torn by contradictions, a society of wandering people without a clear direction. The reason for this is that we have not wanted to face the truth for decades. And today more and more often we do not want to tell the truth even as people - out of fear or because we do not see the point. We rarely call the events around us by their real words. More and more people want to hear only what they like and are looking for it from sources that will give them the information they need. Here is the responsible role of the media, which have proven over the years as a reliable source of information. That is why bTV is a platform for the truth today.
How do you try to overcome the manifestations of "post-truth" through your work?
They say that the truth is like water - it always finds a way! I believe in this. I remember when "post-truth" became the word of the year in 2016. Then, and perhaps today, many people do not understand its meaning, but each of us has tasted it. For me, these are false hopes for something better. However, playing with people's emotions, which displaces the facts, bears the same fruit of a disintegrating society. No one cares about the facts when someone tells them the "truth." Overcoming something harmful requires perseverance. For us as journalists at bTV, this means checking facts, showing facts and again - checking in the same sequence, every day. Diligence in this direction takes you out of the common denominator of the "bad" media. Because the media have long been the target of targeted attacks. The collapse of authorities helps the "post-truth". However, with the beginning of the pandemic, the political turmoil and the cataclysm of the war, people felt the need to seek the voice of reason again. Today we are witnessing the opposite process – the following of the facts.
We live in a time of infodemic. People are flooded with messages. In this environment, misinformation and fake news spread 6 times faster than honest journalism. What do you think are the right tools for the media to help people make informed decisions?
If this is a battle for the truth, you must fight it with the best in order to overcome the lies that are sometimes imposed on us every day. Team is the other thing that gives strength. I am a graduate of the bTV school, and it has been building team players since the time of Luba Rizova. I trust the people we work with to succeed in the battle for truth. Iskra Vladimirova, editor-in-chief of "Current Affairs", is the person from whom I learned a lot about exposing lies, even as a host of "This Morning". Vesselina Petrakieva, Editor-in-Chief of the bTV News, is the person in our team with uncompromising professionalism and a flair for news. Each of the producers and reporters, the people who take care of the visual part of our product are aware of the responsibility that carries every word and frame that reaches the audience. And since it was a question of the right tools, and I don't want to compare people to tools - they are the minds that can sometimes be overcome by purposeful brainwashing.
For a long time you were the host of "This Morning" on bTV, do you miss the screen?
I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it. And right now we are talking about the truth. But I don't miss appearing on the screen for its own sake. Communicating with viewers is a special form of trust. It may sound unrealistic, but appearing on screen, especially to me, was like communicating with family. This is a moment of intimacy. To deceive the viewer for me is equivalent to deceiving my closest people. I cannot allow myself to do it.
I always give an example with the screen, which works like a magnifying glass, with which the viewer can see your true intentions, emotions and thoughts with each movement of the pupil of your eye. I am glad of the trust we have built with the audience. Because over the years I have learned one thing - the viewer wants to see primarily a human on the screen. A man who can make mistakes, but will remain himself. Arrogance is repulsive and I do not approve of such behavior because it drives away the audience. Sometimes the screen turns people into beasts. That's why I try to rely on people who carry the human in themselves and are ready to keep it. That is why I believe that Zlatimir Yochev is in the right decision for an erudite and responsible journalist who wins the audience with his mind and normalcy in the morning. That's why I'm happy for all the other colleagues who are the faces of news, shows or reporters - everyone stands by their name through the audience and is responsible for their words.
What did you manage to achieve in the managerial function?
I mentioned the challenges facing our colleagues over the years. We went through a year of political turmoil with over 150 hours of extraordinary airtime. Three elections, special studios, different vision for each project. To imagine the scale - the newsroom, current affairs and sports produce nearly 50 hours a week. This means that for colleagues, 2021 was about a month longer. Especially for the colleagues who are related to the coverage of political topics - Maria Tsantsarova, Tsvetanka Rizova, Jeni Marcheva and Svetoslav Ivanov.
In the first days of the war we have over 14 hours of special airtime. Behind all these numbers is really round-the-clock work by reporters, producers, editors on the site btvnovinite.bg, and colleagues from bTV Radio.
6 different teams cover the events in Ukraine even before the start of hostilities and then in the hottest points of the war - Kyiv, Odessa, Lviv - Stoyan Georgiev, Desislava Rizova, Tsvetelina Balabanova, Hristiana Chervenkova. Ivan Georgiev was the host of the central news program directly from Ukraine for a whole week. Reporters Ivaylo Vezenkov and Gergana Venkova were in the border areas with shocking stories of refugees.
However, all the overtime is worth it, because in case of extraordinary events, bTV news is the preferred source of information and the data from the polling agencies clearly show it. Extraordinary news and studios at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine at the end of February had almost 30% TV share *, and the central bTV news program in
February-March had an average of almost one million viewers **
* GARB, 24-27.02 - 4+ audience, 28.8% share versus 20.2% for Nova
** GARB, 14.02-23.03 2022, 4+ audience, average size of 957,070 compared to Nova's 650,530
It is important for us to develop digital projects, because the dynamics in which we live require it. And we are clearly doing well, because Gemius data shows a progressive increase with 11% in the number of users of our news site over the last six months, and page views have increased with 64%.
In close collaboration with our CEO Martin Svehlak, we are actively working and continue to invest in high quality content and upgrade our digital presence by developing our platforms polythematically. We strive for a 60:40 ratio between airtime and digital presence on topics that excite society. We launched two new websites this month. btvsport.bg offers news from Bulgarian and world sports, the biggest sporting events, meetings with superstars and video podcasts, as well as exclusive content.
businessnovinite.bg is the business website, an addition and extension of btvnovinite.bg, where we offer in one place everything the business audience wants to know with accessible content from the world of macroeconomics, finance, energy, lending, stock and commodity exchanges, cybersecurity, real estate , cryptocurrencies and high technology.
Our sports podcast is unique for Bulgaria and arouses great interest, and new projects in this form are forthcoming.
In 2022 we continue to develop with new projects and television content of bTV. On air for nearly two months is the latest show "Why, Mr. Minister", in which viewers are waiting for answers to the most important questions of the week from the figure in government. Its host is Maria Tsantsarova, who has proven herself not only as a journalist but also as a host. The show is a natural continuation of the new form introduced half a year ago in our central news program. The extension to the news with a guest in the studio quickly became a rating segment for more news in the news, and there is additional added value to the content of the show for viewers.
What does "clean journalism" mean to you?
Following the rules and covering the affected parties. Very often today even this is not observed. Perfection is hard to achieve, but doing "pure journalism" means not lying and distorting the facts. To show the problem in depth. It is not our job to please any of the affected parties. The job of journalists is to dig into the wound, if necessary, to bring out the truth. The one who should be satisfied is the viewer or the reader.
I would like to thank you for the invitation to be part of the jury of the Web Report competition. I believe that it is important to show and distinguish the quality work of journalists and to work to promote valuable projects among the general audience.
Would you give examples of a job well done by you or your colleagues?
The work of colleagues in bTV News is highly appreciated by viewers. Their trust means a job well done for us. For the last almost year and a half in which I have held this position, I have had dozens of reasons for pride. There are times when the viewer does not see many details of our work. Sometimes broadcasting a report or including it live is a matter of hundreds of seconds. And for this short time there should be a connection of all key roles in the system - journalists, cameramen, colleagues in the hardware. Election studios and debates over the past year have shown the strength of bTV's journalism. Each extraordinary issue is the result of quick decisions combined with professionalism.
There are cases like the bus crash on the Struma highway, in which you are stunend bythe great tragedy and your eyes fill with tears, but you have to be in shape and keep going. I remember that then they woke me up at 3:30 in the morning, we woke up the other colleagues and at 4:30 we were already broadcasting from the scene of the incident with full information about what happened.
An example of a job well done in recent days are the reports and live broadcasts of Stoyan Georgiev from Ukraine. He visited Bucha, we heard the chilling story of the eyewitnesses. On the day of the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, he was broadcasting live from there. was the only Bulgarian journalist to ask Zelenski during Kiril Petkov's visit. Hours later, he reflected on the devastated block in Kyiv, where he also interviewed the city's mayor, Klitschko. Stoyan is the proof of working with a heart that can open doors.
What content would you describe as "quality" in wartime conditions?
Verified information. The best international editors work at bTV. We had situations in which we decided together with them on each video that appeared on social networks and related to the beginning of hostilities in Ukraine - whether to be broadcast or not. This is the case for any information, especially from abroad. We cannot allow ourselves to be a channel for propaganda, and it is precisely these difficult conditions of war that prove the professionalism and responsibility with which we do our job.
What brings you satisfaction today?
My satisfaction is our young colleagues. I built myself as a journalist at bTV, I learned from the best and now we are passing on to our younger colleagues the principles to follow in order to prove themselves as professionals. In the last year we managed to attract many talented people, and some of them were interns in our internship program. I think this is a message to anyone who wants to do journalism and to our audience. These young colleagues will learn from people with exceptional experience in the newsroom and will know what a quality journalistic product is. Being a teacher of people who are now establishing themselves in the profession is a responsible endeavor. And it is a message to the viewers, because it refutes the widespread opinion that there are no smart and talented children left in Bulgaria. On the contrary, they exist, and I believe that they must have a platform to fight against untruth and to prove that success is possible with hard work and intelligence.
What do you see hope in? (In the media, in the world we live in?)
There are people in Bulgaria who do not want to benefit themselves and steal from the common property. I follow many groups on social networks where people gather, clean dirty places or help with products of elderly people in the villages. This is hope.
Very often we are in a comfortable state of self-pity. The wait for someone to come and solve our problems must be ended. We as a people like to "delegate" responsibility for ourselves and expect someone to do their job and fix the situation. We overflow from timelessness to inaction and vice versa. I see hope in people who know that whatever has to be done must be done by them, that they are responsible. If we manage to cultivate this attitude towards our country as a nation - we will be able to turn the empty circle in which we continue to revolve.