The rumour that I was going to fire everyone was unhelpful.
It was December 2001, and I had a spectator’s seat at the final newsroom meeting being presided over by The Sofia Echo’s then editor-in-chief, Brendan Howe, who was the fourth person to hold that post since the paper’s founding in April 1997. I was about to become the fifth.
Since then, I have had the stewardship of 521 issues of this newspaper, including the one that you are holding in your hands (or much more probably, reading online) – and after this point, that personal pronoun will be banned from this article, because as The Sofia Echo makes the transition to become a purely online publication, it is time to pay tribute to all who did so much to build the newspaper – including all those staff who were not fired.
"Yes, I know that it’s three o’clock in the morning, but your husband promised us a restaurant review." Thus spake a certain features editor, a few years back in our Shipka Street office, on one of our customarily marathon production nights, those long, long Wednesdays.
That phone call was a drastic measure, of course. Earlier, in our San Stefano Street days, an internet service provider collapse had seen Echo journalists getting an unaccustomed amount of exercise, dashing up and down the stairs with discs, between their desks and a (fortunately) nearby internet café.
One late night saw the arrival of an unexpected guest, in the early hours of Thursday morning, skeptical of the claim that all that was going on was the process of editing, proofing and layout. The young man’s surprise check-up at least left him reassured that his girlfriend’s fidelity was intact.
Nor, as proofs trundled off the printer and were scrutinised by sometimes weary eyes, could this newspaper escape the occasional gremlin that made its way through. Like all typos, some were embarrassing, some arguably libellous (how did "Inferior Minister" get past all of us?), some downright funny and one – perhaps – prescient: in print, we referred to something called "night vision googles". Who is to say that one day that something like that will not exist? We may have had a scoop, albeit inadvertently.
Money, money, money
"I believe you’re the one around here who deals with the money."
Thus a somewhat haughty journalist peremptorily addressed Christine Milner, co-founder of the Echo with her husband Ivan Morov and for the bulk of the newspaper’s life, the managing director of the company publishing it.
With admirable restraint, Christine confirmed that she was. Many, many other things too, and arguably the only person who ever was at the Echo who could have put her hand to any of the sundry jobs of the staff, from accounting to sales to writing and editing and, erm, management. It is breaking no confidence to disclose that a favourite recollection was the first day that someone came in from the street to buy an advert. In newsrooms, news editors like to have some "all-rounders" on their staffs as reporters. Few appreciate the value of an all-rounder publisher.
The truth is out there
"We think that you should put a team of investigative reporters on to this."
Probably, it’s the fault of generic bylines. Stories credited to "The Sofia Echo staff" may give outsiders the impression of a throng of journalists crowding a vast newsroom that stretches to the horizon, making the Washington Post’s reporters room look like the quarters of a parish-pump newsletter.
The best of The Sofia Echo’s journalists, and there have been a succession of those and hopefully will be many more, have been all-rounders – reporters, editors, page-proofers, photographers, all rolled into one. Add in the polyglots, the IT buffs, the incurably curious and those willing to turn every journey into a feature, and the mix always has been a heady one. A League of Nations, too – in the days of larger staffs, at one point about 10 nationalities were represented.
But, sadly, no investigative team to spend months and money on burrowing deep into the truth about a real or imagined wrong. Very few media outlets have, or ever had, resources for that.
On the bright side, m’lud, we’ve never done any phone hacking.
Bouquets and brickbats
The Sofia Echo is anything but unique in making the transition from being a print publication to being solely online. The newspaper is four years older than the website, the latter initially consisting solely of the newspaper content and then, some years later, becoming the daily outlet for Sofia Echo coverage.
For a number of years, the editorial staff have written for both – producing hundreds of stories a month and attracting several thousand subscribers to the online daily bulletin.
The Echo’s world is a changed one, but whose core was created first by the work in those early days by the first editors-in-chief – Boyan Gyuzelev, Georgi Apostolov, Svetla Jeliazkova, Brendan Howe.
Please have a look at our Roll of Honour for the names of the reporters and senior staff who have contributed to the traditions of The Sofia Echo; and, as a newspaper, tribute must also be given to those layout and design staff who made their own contribution. A salute, too, to those whose mother tongue was not English but coped not only in this language but also were confronted by the rigid demands of the 138-page Style Guide; tribute to those (sometimes long-suffering) copy editors and page-proofers who sought to make our newspaper as flawless as it could be.
That tribute must be in the future of The Sofia Echo; as a newspaper, it passes; in cyberspace, it lives, with all the spirit of its many years.
A Sofia Echo Roll of Honour
A salute to the journalists who have worked (or still do) on The Sofia Echo newspaper during my time so far as editor-in-chief, from 2002 to the present; the names are in no particular order and any omissions are unintentional. I regret not knowing all the names of the editorial staff from 1997 to the end of 2001.
Rozalia Hristova, Petar Kostadinov, Gabriel Hershman, Alex Bivol, Magdalena Rahn, Christina Dimitrova, Rene Beekman, Lucy Cooper, Matt Willis, Velina Nacheva, Marlene Smits, Nick Iliev, Nick Peterson, John Dyer, Dan Box, Paul Morton, Nelly Lozanova, Dave Yasvinski, Alexandra Alexandrova, Svetlana Guineva, John Dodds, Mel Mayo, Molly Burke, Radha Blackman, Yana Moyseeva, Polina Slavcheva, Elena Koinova, Elena Kodinova, Elitsa Savova, Elitsa Grancharova, Spasena Baramova, Ivan Vatahov, Violet Farah, Anelia Zaharieva, Vanya Rainova, Desislava Leshtarska, Ina Ignatova.
Special mention: Christo Komarnitski, cartoonist.