Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mario Garcia: Newspapers Will Innovate but the Telephone Is the BigThing

Dr. Mario R. Garcia of Garcia Media is a man of many qualities. He is a world famous pioneer of multimedia news publishing design who worked with publishing giants like The Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit, Das Bild as well as many medium size and small companies in many countries. He is a philosopher of the news of the future, a teacher of journalism and publishing design.

In Russia, he has been working with the Moskovskie Novosti, a historical brand and newly  relaunched multimedia newspaper, and designed a new logo for the RIA Novosti news agency, the parent company and publisher.

On January 31, 2013 Mario delivered a public lecture on Storytelling in a Multi Platform Media World for about 100 Russian media experts and students at RIA Novosti's Multimedia Press Center. Russian speakers may watch the official video recording of the lecture.

  • The one “big thing”, or the publishing platform of the near future, is mobile, however print newspapers will survive and will find a new role for themselves.

  • Designers have begun to play a role almost as important as editors in multimedia news production.

  • Russian papers are designed well but not in an innovative manner. News agencies such as RIA Novosti are at the cutting edge of the media evolution.

These ideas and more he shared in an interview with Alexei Pankin, RIA Novosti correspondent and editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP Magazine, a Russian version of WAN-IFRA Magazine for the international publishing professionals. The interview was originally published in Russian here; it has gathered over 1,000 views.

On the next big thing in news publishing

Q: Do you believe that the mobile, tablets are really the big thing of tomorrow, correct?

Mario: I think that the telephone will be the tool of tomorrow for reading everything – for kids, like my grandchildren, they will read more than we do on a telephone. You and I don't enjoy reading on a telephone too much, maybe we check an email or whatever. But the next generations, the two generations behind us, they are going to do everything on this telephone. So to me, the tablet and the phone are the two digital platforms to develop.

Q: Of course the old question that everybody's asking you – what happens to the paper versions? Will they disappear, will they survive, and in what form?

Mario: I think the daily newspapers may not print daily editions during the week, but they will still print during the weekend. I think that people during the weekend will want to disconnect, and they will want to sit somewhere where there is no beep, no computer, no sound, and just basically enjoy a good read like you do a book or a magazine. So print will always be alive because of that. But daily, these newspapers in America that are three or four sections every day – people don't have time for this. I think that daily, it will probably be digital, and on the weekend you will have more of a very big weekend package to enjoy, by the fireplace, or sitting under a tree, or whatever. But there will always be print.

Q: And the business models for mobile will turn up eventually…

Mario: I think that the paywalls are going to start coming in. They have been very successful for The New York Times, where you bundle all of your platforms – phone, online, print and tablet – and then people pay for this, and whether they consume one or the other, that's their problem. But you will be paying. Forty four percent of all American publishers of newspapers say that this year they will build a paywall, so that's very big progress – I think that's the model.

Others are going to do what The Economist does – unbundle and separate. So you can buy the tablet but not the print edition. But I think the model that you will see more and more is the whole package – you buy everything.

On the art and science of publishing design

Q: Traditionally, designers have been more or less a service to editors, and now it looks like they are the drivers, that editors more or less follow the designers...

Mario: It is not a service department anymore. I think the designers are totally integrated, because visual journalism is extremely important. People live in a visual world, so they want to have more graphics, they want to have more impact of color, and the designers are the ones who know about this. I don't know how it is in Russia, but I'm seeing it here already. I just visited the infographics department of Moskovskie Novosti and there were big graphics being done, and all of that. So I think that it's everywhere. You feel that way?

Q: Yes, I feel this way too. Doesn't this make the news more shallow? It might be a good service in terms of selling  the news, but does it really contribute to people understanding what's really going on?

Mario: The graphics do. I think that a good design is there to make the content come out and make it easier to follow and easier to understand. A graphic can sometimes define what happened, better. I saw a graphic this morning, I don't know what newspaper it was, about a fire in a discotheque in Brazil, and that graphic is what showed you how people could not escape, all of that. So I don't think it cheapens the quality of everything – it really makes the understanding of the story more clear. But of course, if you abuse it, if you over-design, then like the abuse of anything, it's not good.

On training of journalists

Q: Here in Russia, there is a big debate – people are looking for new skills and new ways to prepare journalists. What do you think are the qualifications for young journalists or trainees in journalism or editing, what skills should they be acquiring?

Mario: think that right now there is much time spent trying to teach the technical side of things, of how a tablet works, or how to use a phone. I think in any case, the idea is to create journalists who know about the story, storytelling is the protagonist, and after that comes the platforms. And I think that hasn't changed. When I went to journalism school, the best classes were teaching you how to write stories. That is still the same today. Except that today, once you write the story, you might have to do a special version for online, and you might be asked to do a video while you are doing your interview. And those are storytelling skills that journalists need to know that were not part of the training we had when we went to journalism school. But the primary thing is storytelling. Then second, to be digitally minded, so they really think of audio. I had my first digital book published, and to me, the real lesson is that, because I am 65 years old, I tried to tell every story with words, and the editor will tell me, No, here you could put audio, here you could do a video to tell this story much better. And then I would react and say okay, and then I would do it. But the original thinking was always writing. And it's not that way. If you are digitally-minded, you are going to think in terms of many senses – hearing, seeing, touching. And that is what the new journalist needs to learn – that there are many ways to tell a story, but that the story is the most important part of the training. In all of my workshops, I always begin – and that's the title of my book, Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet, because I think that storytelling is the key, we cannot forget that part.

On mission in Russia

Q: What brings you to Russia this time?

Mario: I am here to conduct workshops for the team of RIA Novosti, primarily the newspaper Moskovskie Novosti, [the sister publication] The Moscow News, and then to give a public lecture here, about storytelling in the age of the tablet. And so, it's a short visit for training, and it's a short visit of updating, because I've worked with the Novosti before, now it's changed quite dramatically to a different format. So we're checking to see how it is, how it could be better, and all of that. So that's my visit this time.

Q: Are you satisfied with your previous experience? I think that your earlier design was quite interesting, it was a good paper to hold in your hands. But apparently they felt they had to change it...

Mario: They told me that they changed it because they wanted to appeal to 18-35-year-olds, and the old model was appealing to 55 and older. The older readers of the MN were common, but the young ones were not common. So they decided to be an entirely different newspaper – a tabloid, photographic, the opposite of what we did. And I think they're doing a good job now of this.

Q: So do you think all is fine?

Mario: I like it, I think that they are not doing enough with the digital formats. They concentrated too much on the print. So I've told them to move more into phone, digital, tablet, with more enthusiasm.

Q: I remember attending your public lecture in Moscow back in 2004. At least since then you've been coming here from time to time. Do you observe any developments in the Russian publishing industry as you meet people or talk to them, or see some  of our new publishing products?

Mario: I was talking to Tim Wall, who was the editor of the Moscow News, and he was telling me about his new project, which is Russia Beyond the Headlines. And I think that they are onto some interesting things, but it's basically how Russia is shown outside of Russia. So that to me was an interesting project. They had a great deal of apps and so on about Russian literature, Russian sports, and so on, but for exporting to the other side. I think that right now here, in RIA Novosti, you will probably see that the most exciting things are probably going to be happening within the news service itself. They are redesigning their website, which I think is going in the right direction, and they are telling me they will do more with the tablet. But in terms of the published newspapers, I don't see anything in the daily newspapers, either in terms of design, or journalism, that you would say they are setting a trend – not really. Maybe you disagree, I don't know. What do you think? Are some of them setting a trend – in print?

Alexei: I don't think so. I think that Izvestia [local daily newspaper] is trying to experiment. But not really trend-setting, no, I don't think so.

Mario: I didn't see, when I looked at the papers in the morning, I didn't see one and say, I would like to grab this one, what are they doing?, this is different. Probably MN the most different one, with their treatment of... like you see the photos going all the way across – the large photo concept.

Q: So you have a chance just to look at our newsstands, see a lot of papers, and say that you didn't see anything that would really grab your.attention...

Mario: No. But they are good-looking newspapers. I think that Russian newspapers now are, in terms of design, in a good way. There are no ugly newspapers that you need to take to the hospital by ambulance, or anything like that. I think that they're all finding their space, and doing it well. I don't think that there are innovations as such, whether online or in tablets, where you would say, This is one that the world should see. But they are all nice-looking.

On trends in newspaper design

Q: What are the trends, what would you like to see more of in these papers versions?

Mario: I think that the trends will be that beginning on page one, you get a sense that there are surprises in this newspaper, that it's not the same photo of the fire in Brazil that everybody has, that you do this online but that your printed product offers more surprises, which I think in a sense this one does. Maybe they should have more stuff on page one. But they do make you stop and look, because it's a photo that you haven't seen. They see they will never go with a newsy photo of a plane crash that everybody knows – that they will always use. So that's number one.

Number two – easier navigation. You show me what's inside the newspaper immediately, in an easy way. And then, interesting uses of color and typography. That's what I would say are innovations to look at, and say, Wow, this paper is doing something different.

There are three things that design is good for. The first one is to make the material easy to find. If the design is too complicated,  that's not good. Number two, is making it easy to read – the type should be big, easy on the eyes. And the third is, it should make you understand the story better.

On different cultures of publishing

Q: How do you find it working with Russian editors? Is there any difference between when you work here, and when you work, let's say, somewhere in the United States, or in Latin America?

Mario: Big differences. The Latin Americans really wait until the last minute to do things. They like to work under pressure, you see. So you have to keep pushing them, because they're bored easily. If you start talking for 45 minutes, you've lost them. In ten minutes, they want to have action. The American editors are very open to change and very direct.

The Russian editors I think are somewhat more insulated. I don't think that many of them – maybe because of language reasons or whatever – expose themselves too much to what others are doing. So I always see it as my job here to show them what is being done in the rest of Europe, or in Africa, or in Latin America, because they are not looking at this directly. But in a sense, they are closer to the European editors, many of whom... If you are in Central Europe, it's more difficult to be insulated, because you are one country next to the other. Here, you can get lost in the vastness that is Russia, and not look outside. So I find that you have... like in today's workshops, there are two groups – there are the ones who are totally involved in everything, they read everything, they know everything; and then you have the other half, who are happy doing what they do every day, and they are not looking to see what else is happening. So I think that that would be my take on the Russians. What is your take? I'd like to ask you the same question.

Alexei: I think that often it takes a good designer to explain to the editor what he wants, basically. Because after we work with a really good designer, by just telling you what plays better, he will remodel your paper or magazine, or whatever.

Mario: They influence the editor, in a good way.

Alexei: In a sense, I've noticed that a good designer is basically a co-author, or a real co-editor.

Mario: And I think that right now, going back to your first question, many designers are gaining managing editor status, they are managing or creative director, managing editor for graphics and design. So they are no longer at the bottom. I think that this is a point that they have worked very hard to get to. But the good editors know that design is what gets a story out to the people, so that people try it, they seduce you with a story.

Q: Another thing that I noticed is that in the Russian tradition for newspapers, magazines, publishing design is more like an art, a means of self-expression. While for Western designers, it's more like a trade. The Russian designers are thinking about their own self-expression, the Western ones are thinking about convenience for the reader, for the audience. Have you been noticing this?

Mario: Yeah, that is true. The Western editors, the Americans, the Europeans, they want to make sure the story gets to the eyes of the reader quickly and effectively, and they think about what is the best way to sell the story. I think that here, sometimes, I have had this experience at the beginning. They want to say everything in a long story, the words are what carries, and if you tell them to cut 20 lines they are very upset by this. At the beginning of this project, three or four years ago, they would say, Make the photo smaller, smaller and with more text. And I think that this is already, in most Western European countries and in the US, this is already beginning to pass. People know that if you look at a text and it's too long without nice breaks or something, people are not going to read it.

On conservatism of publishing industry

Q: WAN-IFRA always complains that the publishing industry is still very conservative – that there are new opportunities opening, but they still more or less stick to old habits...

Mario: They are conservative. I always say that this is an industry that likes to be the first to report change, and the last to effect change. This industry was one of the last to take computers into the newsroom. There were computers in hospitals, in the city, everywhere, airplanes, before they made it into the newsroom. They are very conservative people, they are traditional. I deal with them every day, and sometimes, you now have editors who are 41 years old, but they were taught by the old editors, so they think like the 75-year-old editor, at 41. I see them everywhere. They are not so interested in change, everywhere. It's the same in America, it's the same everywhere.

The big thing for the day after tomorrow

Q: Last question. Mobile is the current big thing and of tomorrow. Do you envision any other big things emerging after mobile?

Mario: If you go by these kitchens of the future, laboratories of the future, you are dealing with more augmented reality kind of things, images everywhere, coming out of your fingers and going into the mirror and going into the wall, that all of this is in the inventive stages. But I think that telephone, if we are talking about the next five years, not beyond that, then the telephone is the big thing. Because the people who are 14 now will be reading almost everything they read on a telephone. You and I don't, but they will. I see it, I see my grandchildren, the 12- and 13-year-olds, they spend time with this phone, and they read, and they look at videos and they look at television and they look at everything on this phone. Which to me... I use it like you use your phone, but I will not spend hours looking at videos on a phone, but they do. So I think that mentality will carry. Interesting times are coming.

(c) RIA Novosti

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