Conference review

Jubilee international scientific conference “Communication and Media in the 21st Century: Educational and Professional Challenges”

The Jubilee international scientific conference on the topic of “Communication and Media in the 21st Century: Educational and Professional Challenges”  has taken place at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication via the Microsoft Teams video conference platform. In two days, 78 researchers from 16 universities and institutions from Bulgaria and abroad have participated in 10 panels and a plenary session in Bulgarian and in English.

At the beginning of the plenary session the participants were greeted by Prof. Dr. Vesselina Valkanova, Dean of the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Mr. Milen Mitev, general director of the Bulgarian News Agency, Mrs. Nadia Vissers, director of the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA). In her speech, the Dean of FJMC Prof. Dr. Vesselina Valkanova expressed her content both from the fact that leading researchers, scientists, lecturers and practitioners in the field of media and communication had participated in the conference and from the impressive scientific conference program on key topics from the development of media, communication, and education in journalism in the 21st century. Prof. Valkanova noted that the year 2022 was a jubilee year for the academic community of FJMC because the university education in journalism in Bulgaria had begun 70 years ago.

Prof. Valkanova emphasized that in the beginning of the 21st century the educational institutions as a whole and particularly the universities, had faced a number of social challenges, they had undergone structural and educational transformations, which were linked to the radical changes of the environment and to the necessity for significant alterations of the educational processes, of academic programs and teaching approaches linked to the necessity for digitalization. The university system strives to overcome this situation so it can be competitive and can continue to offer quality education in the context of the digital transformation and technological innovations. On its own, the education in journalism combines the academic knowledge with practical skills that are necessary for the professional development of the graduating students. In her opening speech Prof. Valkanova underlined that the communication environment not only in Bulgaria but around the world had undergone radical changes. At the moment, the war in Ukraine adds challenges and difficulties to the journalistic profession. Exactly in times of crisis the immense demand for quality journalism and quality education in journalism manifests itself as a counterpoint to the fake news and disinformation.

Mrs. Nadia Vissers greeted the faculty management and its students and pointed out the impressive scope of the actions done throughout the past years. The topics of the development of journalism and of the importance of the defense of its principles were a part of her speech. Mrs. Vissers noted that Sofia University had been a very loyal and supportive member of the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA). She greeted the Faculty mentioning that FJMC was well known internationally. She pointed out the importance of the education of the future students in journalism and media culture so they could deal successfully with the challenges the society faced nowadays. As a conclusion, Mrs. Vissers wished more success to the Faculty and a constructive and inspiring conference to all participants. Mr. Milen Mitev also greeted the attendees and expressed his joy that he had the possibility to participate in such an important event in the following two days. He spoke about the high professional standards, freedom of speech and students’ education. Mr. Mitev underlined the fact that freedom was not only the ability to speak out but also the right to know. As a conclusion, he wished that students would always be curious and critically thinking about everything.

Part of the plenary session of the conference were also Prof. Dr. Sc. Milko Petrov, an acclaimed specialist in the field of foreign journalism and its development in the USA and in Europe, leading lecturer on foreign journalism, on image building, on history and theory of journalism and public relations, on international communication; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Erika Jauniene and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Marija Stonkiene from Vilnius University, Lithuania, and Prof. Dr. Raluca Radu from the University of Bucharest, Romania – academic partners of the jubilee conference. The panel ended with a presentation of a research by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Caroline Roth-Ebner and Dr. Christian Oggolder from the University of Klagenfurt, Austria, which analyzed the digital literacy of seniors after the COVID-19 pandemic. The topic of media literacy in the conditions of an increased usage of different online platforms was present in all of the statements in the plenary session, which only showed the importance of it both for the everyday life of society and as a research interest.  The event continued with presentations and discussions in the different panels: “Transformations of Media Literacy”, “Communication and Digital Turn”, “Cultural and Psychological Particularities in the Communicative Process”, “Journalism and War – Discursive Practices and Educational Challenges”, “Media Professional Practice and Education: Contemporary Debates”, “Contemporary Aspects of the Theory of Media and Communication”, “Political and Ethical Dimension of the Freedom of Speech”, “Changes in the Roles of Social Media and Future Perspectives of Media”, “Communication as an Industry”, “Transformational Effects in the Field of Mass Communication in Times of Crisis”.

Media literacy was in the center of the first panel of the conference: “Transformations of Media Literacy”. The participants in it presented many different aspects of the problem in their reports and in this way revealed the complexity and the multilayered essence of media literacy. The moderator Assoc. Prof. Dr. Svetlozar Kirilov chose to open the panel focusing on a particularly popular topic for the society: the propaganda clash between Russia and Ukraine after the start of the war activities. He focused on the discussions whether the Ukrainians have an affinity for nacism, how much the rights of the Russian speaking residents of the Donbas region have been violated. The digital transformation of media literacy was analyzed through several specific cases: through the challenges to the competencies of information society in the case of the National Library of Lithuania (presentation of Dr. Saule Jokubauskiene from the University of Vilnius), through the typologization of the most commonly used audiovisual formats in video games (presentation of Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Nikolay Kolev). Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Nikola Vangelov reviewed the development of several theories for the essence of the term “advertising” and reached to a new definition that summarized the contemporary characteristics of the advertising activity. The panel ended with a presentation by Mrs. Aneliya Dimova from the Ministry of e-government showing a methodology for assessment of the Bulgarians’ access to the internet.

The panel “Communication and Digital Turn” was moderated by the Dean of FJMC Prof. Dr. Vesselina Valkanova, who presented her report on the trends and perspectives to the online media design. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Maya Stoyanova chose to pay attention on the challenges and the role of new technologies in the teaching of media desgn in higher education. PhD students Yotka Pancheva and Iveta Yordanova continued the discussion on the specifics of visual communication in the conditions of convergence and of new media in their reports. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Simeon Vassilev shared the thesis of a necessity for a new media culture to face the challenges to the media ecosystem and to journalism as part of the public sphere. The new technologies were analyzed in the report by Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Ivan Valchanov from the University of National and World Economy, who introduced the role of search engines for information online for journalism.

Media and communication and their particularities in different countries were the common topic for the presentations in the panel “Cultural and Psychological Particularities of the Communicative Process” with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Diana Petkova as a moderator. Here were presented the points of view of researchers form the United States (Prof. Dr. Ginny Whitehouse from the Eastern Kentucky University chose to focus her research on the moral distinctions in teaching journalism and PR), Hungary (Dr. Mihaly Gal spoke about the necessity of a more serious research on the link between political bias, access to information and the radicalization and presented four models of their interaction), Romania (Dr. Manuela Preoteasa presented the results from an international project dedicated to fact checking as a way to counter disinformation). Disinformation was at the centre of the report of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ralitsa Kovacheva, who chose to analyze the channels for its dissemination in times of crisis: COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. Asst. Prof. Dr. Desislava Sotirova sought an answer to the questions whether foreign countries tried to influence the editorial politics of the media in the Western Balkans countries and how this influence was implemented. Comparing the national media systems in Japan, China and India in a geopolitical context, PhD student Ivelyna Vatova tried to determine the key factors for the development of media in a certain state: whether this was the level of economic development, the presence or absence of national secutity or freedom of speech. Dr. Tsvetelina Dzhambazova used the defamation trial between the actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard to illustrate how a discussion that has started in social media, manage to replace the coverage of nationally important news in traditional media.

The war in Ukraine and its different dimension were naturally one of the leading topic during the conference. A special panel was dedicated to it: “Journalism and War – Discursive Practices and Educational Challenges”, which was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Svetlana Stankova. Assoc. Prof. Stankova began the discussion with her research on the image of the war in Ukraine in the world media. PhD student Olga Kolar continued with the ways, through which the conflict is being covered in the Republic of Moldova and tried to propose some ways for ending the disinformation in the news emissions covering the war. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Lora Simeonova presented results from a survey among 58 “Journalism”, “Public Relations” and “Book Publishing” students. According to the results, the discussions during university lectures and seminars are an important compass for the formation of the students’ opinion about the events happening on the battlefield between Russia and Ukraine. PhD student Nadelina Aneva chose the New Television morning block “Hello Bulgaria” as a reference point to follow the role of metaphor in the ideological discourse in the first 100 days after the beginning of the conflict, whereas PhD student Desislava Frantsova analyzed the topic through the prism of sports journalism. Differents aspects of the contemporary political and economic crisis were at the centre of the reports of PhD students Zarina Vassileva and Vyara Ivanova.

The second day of the jubilee conference began with a panel dedicated to the education and practice on communication specialties: “Media Professional Practice and Education: Contemporary Debates”, which was moderated by Prof. Dr. Nikolay Mihaylov. Prof. Dr. Greta Dermendjieva offered a typology of the educational forms, learning and teaching means, whereas Prof. Dr. Sc. Dobrinka Peicheva focused her presentation on the dynamics of group communication in the digital environment. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Stefan Serezliev presented a report which analyzes and conceptualizes new fields of the integration between different perspectives and challenges to the management of integrated brand communications in the field of academic theory, professional practice and high education. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elena Tarasheva from New Bulgarian University researched the terms and linguistic means that can be taught through media. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Maya Vassileva focused on the results from students’ attempts on writing texts about the different stages of the Ukraine-Russia peace negotiations. PhD student Atanas Lozanov made an attempt for an objective comparative analysis between the conventional educational system in all of its stages and upgraded models that relied on the instruments and the devices of high technology through AR and VR.

The panel “Contemporary Aspects of the Theory of Media and Communication”, which was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Orlin Spassov, unified reports on different topics that in their essence presented important aspects of the theory of media and communication. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spassov paid attention to the concept of media pluralism, to its scope and different uses. Prof. Dr. Totka Monova talked about the influence that the new media have on the generic transformations and the reflexive textual forms (which are a new form of contemporary journalism). In consequtive reports, Dr. Nadezhda Miteva, Dr. Neli Velinova and Dr. Lora Metanova analyzed the transformations and the evolutionary dynamics of journalism in Bulgaria. The topic of PhD student Eleana Gencheva followed the media influence on the formation of public opinion on celebrities from the political stage in Bulgaria and around the world. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Stilia Felisi Paunova presented the results from a sociometric analysis of students in Bulgaria in 2022, and the report of PhD student Blagovest Iliev was on the challenges to the teams of the regional televisions in Stara Zagora district.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sc. Maria Popova moderated the panel “Political and Ethical Dimension of the Freedom of Speech”. Assoc. Prof. Popova presented her research on the changes in the essence of journalism coming from the mixing of the practice of professional and civil journalists, on the changes coming from the ability media products to be distributed through various media and digital channels, from the engagement of the audience to use them through multiple technological means. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Aneta Milkova presented a research on disinformation and propaganda. The report of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zhana Popova summarized the results from a research of the understanding of pluralism of 5 groups in the period between 2000 and 2020: journalists (in private and public media), the members of the Council for Electronic Media, media researchers, the politicians from the media committees at the National Assembly of Bulgaria, and the authors of operational critics on media in the periodic press. Mrs. Ruslana Margova from the GATE Institute for Big Data of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” made an attempt for systematization and unificiation of the terms linked to fake news. PhD student Nikolay Chadarov presented the communicative aspects of the military oath ritual, and Asst. Prof. Diliana Kirkovska – the digital radio, its legal aspects and its market regulation in Bulgaria.

Social media are the leading topic of the reports that were included in the panel “Changes in the Roles of Social Media and Future Perspectives of Media”, which was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Simeon Vassilev. Prof. Dr. Ivo Draganov raised the question about the missing audiovisual face of the EU, and Dr. Valery Marinov analyzed the place of mobile journalism in the formation of the new global framework for media development that is the so called “New Course” in journalism. The topic of Dr. Justine Toms was on the new media formats, which were described as “online audio and video for fast consumption”. The presentation of PhD student Ventsislav Vassilev analyzed the Automatic speech recognition (ARS) software in Bulgarian and its application in the media productions for decoding of live reports with the aim of their publication on media webpages. PhD student Aleksandra Dyankova used the social media LinkedIn as an example for contemporary ways of corporate and personal brand development. PhD students Ivelina Georgieva, Svetozara Velichkova and Nina Stoilova in separate reports put an emphasis on the influence of social media in Bulgaria and their importance as communicative channels in the 21st century.

“Communication as an Industry” was the next panel and it was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mila Serafimova. The first report in this section was presented by Assoc. Prof. Serafimova, who analyzed the role and specifics of PR in situations of global crisis and juxtaposed the communications during the COVID-19 pandemic and the following challenges like the threats for energy and economic crisis and famine coming from the war in Ukraine. Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Diana Andreeva-Popyordanova presented the new results from a joint research with Sofia Municipality called “Sofia – a city of creative economy” about the economic contribution of media (television and radio, new media, and the press), which was conducted in the period between 2008 and 2022.

Chief Asst. Prof. Dr. Miroslava Tsenkova outlined the principles through which companies and their users share information and communicate online and in the same time showed the importance of the effective management of PR activities in business and the advantages and particularities of digital communication. Asst. Prof. Dr. Yordan Karapenchev typologized the UI copyrighting texts according to their dominant function. Dr. Karapenchev paid attention to the fact that the term user interface (UI) was too broad and preceeded digital technologies. In his report, he presented examples for good practices in copyrighting for mobile applications and programs. Dr. Teodora Petkova continued the topic on digital technologies with her presentation on content conceptualization of digital marketing communications on the web as a semantic channel. Different aspects of business communication during the COVID-19 crisis were analyzed in consequent reports by PhD students Bogomila Koleva, Ina Kandeva and Lyubomir Palev.

The discussion after the presentations encompassed many topics – the emphasis however was put on questions linked to the application of social media in corporate communications and to the new possibilities for companies coming from the technological changes. Examples for such possibilities are the virtual reality, metaverse and the new media platforms.

The conference ended with the panel “Transformational Effects in the Field of Mass Communication in Times of Crisis”, which was moderated by Prof. Dr. Efrem Efremov. The researcher from Veliko Tarnovo University Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivo Indzhov began the discussion with the results from content analysis of newspaper publications in the period between 1916 and 2021. In her report, Prof. Dr. Teodora Petrova outlined the meaning and role of audiovisual materials in health campaigns and in strategic communication in healthcare. Prof. Dr. Liliya Raycheva analyzed the media preferences of families according to characterics like the age and the educational specifics of the respondents in an empirical research. PhD students Kiril Yanev, Valentina Marinova and Nedelina Petkova also had presentations in this panel. Common motive in their reports were the transformations in the different types of media coming from crisis situations.