Bulgaria: Fed Up With English-Language Online Publications

The following account is also an opinion piece written by Imanuel Marcus.

It started with the idea of establishing another English-language online publication for the small expat world in Bulgaria and anyone else who would be interested. And it actually worked. ‘Foreigners & Friends’ did not have the name I wanted. It was picked early on, by a business partner who was not a business partner.

But it was a promising start. I plastered that first site of mine with articles about Bulgaria, including concerts and festivals, political and social matters and satiric pieces. Apart from offering an approach nobody else came up with, I managed to create some kind of a dialog between expatriates in Bulgaria and Bulgarian expats abroad.

While those Bulgarians could hardly believe anyone would move to their birth country, because of the job situation, the bad streets and the corruption, most of the Brits, Germans and other Western migrants love Bulgaria. That exchange, achieved through articles about the two groups and social media comments, was interesting to both sides.

When Macedonians in Australia jumped at one of my articles, I registered thousands of hits per day for the first time. Soon, after a few months, the daily average would be close to what a more established site had. I merged with that site, which was now “our site”, meaning my site disappeared because it became part of that other English-language site.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, since that way we would have more manpower. The work would be shared. So would the subjects we reported about in several rubrics. And any income.

The second I was part of that English-language news and features site, the number of readers doubled. People liked the fact that more cultural and light subjects were added, as well as more social topics and better pictures. They also appreciated the publication of articles early in the morning. Before others got out of their Rakia coma at noon, someone had already filled “our site” with “meaningful and good content”, as one top diplomat, sent by a rather large Western country, put it. That compliment was not just for my pieces, but the entire site.

While the development of that site was positive, it quickly began to look very different behind the scenes. Communication was not appreciated. Neither was advice about ways to make that site look a little more attractive.

Oh, and money was a taboo subject, unless the conversation was about the question who would pay the bill at the café after our few meetings. The non-existing income, which turned out to be quite a lot, was never shared, while the work definitely was. Not even a symbolic penny ever reached me, while even the freelance tech guy, who did things once in a while, received a monthly payment.

At least there could have been a little bit of gratitude, one would have thought, during the exploitation process. But even that was a problem. After I ran that news site virtually alone for an entire month, over the Christmas holiday, and in spite of the fact the numbers I pulled were higher than ever during that period, I did not get a single “thank you”. Mr. Pulitzer, who likes to write articles about himself himself (!!), had a tantrum instead.

When that terrible cooperation finally ended, I was torn between trying to make my site Magazine79 a full news and features site, or just a features site about Bulgaria. It became the latter, because I would have had to start from scratch otherwise, while my readers were still on “our site”.

Also, regarding English-language news sites for Bulgaria, there are too many offers. “Our site”, the name of which I will not mention even once, is just like it was before I joined it: dry and boring. The posts are irregular and sometimes cease for two days. It also looks terrible. Apart from failing to redesign the site, they did not even manage to properly crop a picture used in a paid promotion article for a language school chain.

Also some 90 percent of all pieces published are part of the rubric second-hand journalism. In many cases, this approach is justified. Big media rely on news agencies a lot, smaller ones on larger media. But when there is hardly any research, and when the main picture in a story about the Bulgarian electricity market is an ugly shot of the dusty multi-contact plug under the editor-in-chief’s desk, something is wrong.

Then there is a site which uploads lots of articles, but most of them consist of only two or three tiny paragraphs and contain a million English grammar and spelling mistakes per sentence. On the other hand, the articles they just copy and paste from other publications are usually excellent. A big surprise here.

Some students recently came together to create yet another English-language news and features site for Bulgaria. While their English is sort of o.k., their articles are not. Neither are their pieces about sightseeing places which are supposed to look like features, but are in fact concealed copies of Wiki entries and other existing material.

No, it’s not all terrible. There is a site called ‘BalkanInsight’, based in Serbia, which does an excellent job. They are so good they even had the courage to install paywalls for some of their pieces. The only issue is that Bulgaria is not the center of what they focus on. But what they do about this country is usually good.

So, people who want to read articles and features about Bulgaria in English, and those who want to watch videos about the country, might want to try several websites: BalkanInsight for good, in-depth pieces from an independent source, and Magazine79 for features and videos about Bulgaria (try the ‘Places’ section) as well as articles about culture, minorities and more.

Other than that, collecting information from multiple sources is advised, including the big international media (e.g. via Google News Alerts), social media accounts of Bulgaria’s ‘big players’, and Bulgarian media (translate them by clicking ‘translate’ in Google Chrome). Of course most big media in Bulgaria do not really seem to be independent, and some are being run by the mafia. Caution is advised. Multiple sources will give the reader a good picture, in many cases.

I will continue publishing videos and features about Bulgaria on Magazine79. Other than that, one death threat and several racist e-mail attacks later (triggered by articles about the Roma minority, the LGBTI minority and the Jewish minority), and because of the great treatment I received at the terrible looking coma site, I am fed up. Also the market in Bulgaria does not support more. That one site could have been the one, under normal circumstances.

If people involved refuse to settle an issue by discussing it, then the matter should be clarified another way, right? Amen.

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