Exclusive interview with communications ‘guru’ Maxim Behar |16 December 2013
‘Journalism is a serious job and now every minute is important’
A man of many talents, Bulgarian Maxim Behar is a journalist by profession, has worked for many years in prominent Czech magazines Mladý Svět and daily Mladá Fronta in the early 80s, and is now very much involved in the social media world.
A globally recognised public relations expert, often called ‘PR guru’, chief executive of leading Bulgarian PR consultancy M3 Communications Group, inc. and Hill+Knowlton Strategies chairman for Czech Republic, Mr Behar was only last week elected ICCO (International Communications Consultancy Organisation) vice-president at the recent board meeting in Paris.
A Bapra (Bulgarian Public Relations Association) board member and its former chairman, he is also the chairman of the board of The World Communications Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and is also a member of tens of local and international boards and associations, lecturer in many universities all over the world on social media and modern communications.
Honorary consul of Seychelles in Bulgaria, Mr Behar who sees himself as a "citizen of the world", recently released a book entitled ‘Generation F’ and it sold extremely well at Amazon.com.
Seychelles Nation got the opportunity to meet Mr Behar during his recent visit to Seychelles and we bring you the following interview.
Seychelles Nation: How has the profession of journalism changed over the years?
Maxim Behar: The profession has changed a lot. The journalism of 10 or 15 years ago was a quiet profession but of course there were incidents and investigations. Most of the time journalists stayed overnight in the publishing houses. Now we are running against time because there is breaking news every second. Being a journalist is a very serious job because you have to react very quickly and a journalist must keep in mind that every single minute is of great importance and has to put all breaking news online or else someone else will do it.
On the other hand, the profession has become easier because all the background information which journalists spent days and days to look for in the archives and libraries is now easy to find. This means that journalists nowadays must be more precise and more responsible because they have all the information available to them. The only thing required of a journalist is to be a good professional.
Seychelles Nation: What does a journalist require then to be good professional?
Maxim Behar: The journalist has to cover the story honestly and find the truth. Sometimes you achieve the truth and sometimes not, but try to contact all sides when writing a story. Make wise and deep analysis of what you are writing.
Seychelles Nation: Some say it is better to have one side of the story and then the next in order to generate more interest…
Maxim Behar: I don’t think so. Like I said earlier, journalism is a very serious job. If one day you write that a particular man is a bad man and then expects him to react this is not right especially nowadays when it is very easy to get in contact with someone through mobile phones, emails etc. I don’t think having just one side of the story is part of modern journalism.
Seychelles Nation: You have moved from journalism to public relations. What is the difference between the two?
Maxim Behar: There is a huge difference between the two. Journalism is a profession, while public relations is business. In public relations you also place emphasis on research and creativity but more importantly on money and income. Being a journalist you care about the honesty and precision of the stories you write.
But the two have a lot in common. Public relations experts more and more rely on the media and their contacts with the media. They should also know how to handle these contacts. A lot of public relations experts think they can influence the media. But this is a mistake. I believe that the freedom of the media is the mother of all freedom in the modern democracy. So journalists will only write a story if it is interesting. They will cover the story if it is newsworthy or if it has something new for their readers. But they will not cover the story just because someone called them or because they are friend or neighbour of the public relations officer. Therefore public relations officers should very carefully manage their contacts with the media.
Seychelles Nation: How has the social media changed society?
Maxim Behar: The social media has turned society upside down, changed the dynamics of people’s lives, how they think and how they accept things. In the past after reading a newspaper you may feel you don’t have the background of the story, but now through a simple click, you can read everything about everyone. I believe that life has become better thanks to the social media.
This is because life has become transparent and through transparency you become ethical. For example, if you do something which you believe is ethical and society thinks it is not, society can easily challenge you. Nothing can be hidden. I therefore believe that in journalism as in business everything that is transparent is ethical. If you do something wrong the society will know about it and you will also know.
Seychelles Nation: How do you think people who just write anything on the social media affects the ethics of journalism?
Maxim Behar: Most of the time, people who write bad things about other people on the social media do not do so under their real names, especially in a small country like Seychelles where mostly all the people know each other. I think it will be gone very soon as the people will not trust the anonymous writers. Sometimes you can respond to the comments but most of the time you should not.
You cannot discuss something with someone you don’t know. Allowing people to use nicknames to express their negative opinions on things that are generally not true is the worst side of the social media.
If you dare have your name and picture and then express yourself openly and transparently in the social media, then it becomes a fair discussion. But if you hide behind some nickname then people, most probably the next generation, will not trust you. The best thing is not to play with a pig as both of you will be covered with mud and the pig will like it.
Seychelles Nation: Do you think then that citizen journalism is killing mainstream journalism?
Maxim Behar: Not at all. A lot of people who write their stories on the social media believe they are professional journalists. This is not true. It is a kind of journalism, just a way for them to express their opinions, but not professional journalism. I think news agencies and TV channels will stay and radio channels will become satellite and people will have to pay a small amount to receive the programmes and newspapers will turn into an online social media where everyone can discuss about a number of issues and share opinions. The real journalism in the future will be in online news agency. Rest assured that the Seychelles Nation newspaper might one day be the national online news agency in Seychelles. This is not because the newspaper is bad, it is because we are journalists not traders of paper. We don’t need to sell paper and it’s impossible to produce a newspaper every minute following every breaking news. We now have the news on our mobile phones and other electronic gadgets.
Seychelles Nation: Do you mean to say that newspapers will disappear in the future?
Maxim Behar: There are two sides to it. One is the speed of the news and the other the easiest way to copy, read and share the news. Newspapers will also start losing advertisements as the advertisers are already giving their budgets to the online media which are very effective and measurable. They can easily see how many people have seen their products and how many are interested in buying them. This is technically and logistically not possible in the printed media. For them to survive, the print media will have to reduce its number of staff and circulation or close and turn into an online news agency.
Seychelles Nation: It means then that mainstream journalism should harness social media…
Maxim Behar: Yes it should. From my experience, newspapers which have websites with the same name don’t have a future. I think the brand of a news agency should be different from the brand of the newspaper. This will make it more interesting and the readers who don’t want to read the printed paper would like to read news on the online news agency. When newspapers cooperate with social media, it will help increase their sale as people reading from the social media would say ‘I must buy the newspaper tomorrow because there are interesting news coming up’. In the near future, I think all newspapers will be online and the online visits will be higher than any circulation.
Seychelles Nation: In Seychelles we are seeing new newspapers coming out instead…
Maxim Behar: It is a big mistake. There are politicians who want to have their own newspapers to see their pictures and interviews. But trust me, I don’t know the new newspapers in Seychelles very well but I’m sure 90% of them will die soon. There is no room for new newspapers. It is like choosing to work on a big old black and white desktop computer, when people are now using laptops.
Seychelles Nation: We are speaking about online media but the speed of the internet is not that fast even though we are connected to the optic fibre cable. It is also quite expensive.
Maxim Behar: It is true internet connection is a problem in Seychelles, but I don’t think it will prevent people from reading news as it doesn’t require very fast internet connections. On the other hand, the internet will not remain forever slow in Seychelles.
Seychelles Nation: You became the honorary consul of Seychelles in 2004, but how did this come about?
Maxim Behar: It’s an interesting story. Some 15 years ago, I received an email from a friend of mine in Paris that the founding President of Seychelles, Sir James Mancham, would spend a day in Bulgaria and it was possible that we might have lunch or dinner together. In fact we had them both, lunch and dinner and we liked each other so well that we became great friends. I had read about Sir James Mancham in the news in Bulgaria at the time he was President of Seychelles.
Some weeks later after this meeting with Sir James, I was invited to visit Seychelles. However, my appointment as Honorary Consul came in July 2004 after James Michel became President and I’m very proud and privileged to have helped and served such a small, brave and capable nation.
Throughout the years, I have done tens of extremely successful and beneficial services for Seychellois projects. I can tell that in Seychelles it’s about the people. The minute you speak to a Seychellois you immediately develop some kind of friendship. So I told myself, this is a country for which I should work. I initiated the Seychelles Investment Forums with the help of Ambassador Barry Faure and also Sherin Naiken, Minister Peter Sinon, PS Steve Fanny and a whole group of Seychelles enthusiasts. I’m very happy to represent Seychelles in the best way I can.
Seychelles Nation: Finally Mr Behar, how do you plan yourself since you are involved with many organisations?
Maxim Behar: I work 18 hours a day and sleep for just four hours. I care about what kind of mobile phone I have and if the internet connection is fast as I need to receive and send information quickly. If you have a target in doing your job, you will be able to manage your time. A lot of people do their job 90% and say the job is done. In modern time the most important is the 10% that has not been done. If everyone puts their best effort in everything they do the result will be much better.
If you want to be successful in life you should follow the following equation: ability x effort x concentration. If one of the three is missing then the result is zero.
Seychelles Nation: Thank you Mr Behar.
Maxim Behar: My pleasure.
Interview conducted by G. G.