April 12, 2018
The future of the news, a conversation with Francesco Marconi
Francesco Marconi is Research&Development Chief at The Wall Street Journal where he leads experiments with emerging storytelling technologies, tools and technique. At the International Journalist Festival he took part in a panel on the future of the news.
In Italy storytelling is considered related to the narrative world and it's not very often linked with journalism. What do you think about this opposition? Does this happen also in the US?
For me sorytelling is the ability to speak about what connects people. This is a very powerful way of communicate because people are very eager to know story from other people.
This way of communication is not complete however since there is a whole part of information which is made trough data and facts that can't create the connection of storytelling.
Journalists must find a way to balance these two different means of expression.
For instanc the US the "Martini glass pattern" is often used on newspaper articles: the article at the beginning is thin as a Martini glass, describing the point of view of just one person. This is the storytelling part. Than the glass and the articles get bigger: the life of the single person is used to introduce data, facts, complex analysis.
Why do you think US and European newspapers' economic models are so different? Is just a issue related to the smaller audience of European news papers?
It's a very complex question. I think there is not a difference of the models but a difference of how the models are combined.
The classical model provides free contents in exchange of advertises on the websites. Then there is the possibility to put a paywall on the contents of the websites, allowing only the subscribers to access the contents, even if recently a lot of newspapers allow "micro-payments" to display just one article.
There are emerging models as well. Some news organizations are becoming technological companies, developing softwares for their needs and than selling them to others.
Some provides analyses of data or professional insights for a very specific audience. For example the Wall Strett Journal sells different products, such as cyber security insights.
An increasing number of newspapers is also active in organizing conferences or creating diversified contents beyond standard news for their readers, such as tv series. A lot of US newspapers produce series in partners with Netflix or HBO.
The model in US is very dynamic, always trying to find a balance between the many options available. There is not a static model but an ever-evolving model.
Softwares capable of writing newspaper articles are already available. What do you think is going to happen in this regard? Do you think machine will completely substitute humans in this field?
The first media technology was the ability of writing and Aristoteles was very concerned that it was harming our memory. The same thing happened with the telegraph, radio and television and now with AI. When a new technology is introduced in the media industry the are always two reactions.
The first is reluctancy on the adoption, fearing the negative impact. This concerns are valid but people soon realize how the innovation can improve the efficiency of their work.
I think that the introduction of AI on the media industries are not going to be different from the introduction of the typewriters in the newsrooms. There are gains in efficiency and changes in how people work.
For the future I see machine and humans working together, with the machines used to free human creativity. Right now is possible to use automation to turn data into text and text into video. This can help the journalists to attend to more meaningful activities: develop sources, attend conferences, explore immersive storytelling.
I think that to understand technological innovation is important to think to what problems it can solve, always keeping the man at the center of the process.