"The media will change, but journalists will face the same challenge"

Ángela Plaza
Antoni Esteve and Saül Gordillo

The worlds of communication and journalism are evolving constantly. The UOC, a pioneering university in online studies, is celebrating the 15th anniversary the Information and Communication Sciences Department, of which one of the key pieces is the UOC-El Periódico-Lavinia Master's Degree in Digital Journalism and Digital Communication Project Management. To explore the challenges of journalism and communication, we have spoken to Antoni Esteve, President of Lavinia, and Saül Gordillo, Head of Digital Content at El Periódico de Catalunya. Esteve and Gordillo, as leading figures in digital communication, have given us their vision of how journalists' work has evolved and how technology has provided new employment opportunities.

Internet, as with all spheres of society, has also revolutionized journalism, which has evolved towards "digital journalism". What is the current state of play?

Saül Gordillo: If we compare it to how things were 15 years ago, journalism has greatly evolved but, from a historical perspective, we are still at a very early stage of what the technological revolution and the Internet might bring. From a newspaper perspective, we are now beginning to see readers' habits. We are aware of the impact of our front pages in real time, for example. From El Periódico's point of view, it is an exciting time, because we have to maintain our credibility, our editorial policy and defend our brand and, at the same time, be very aware of how people react in order to take these interactions into account. All of this encourages us to take a long, hard look at ourselves.

How does this new context affect audiovisual content, its creation and dissemination?

Antoni Esteve: I agree with those who call this the Infolithic period and argue that, in fact, the communication era is just beginning. For the first time, a message can be transmitted to the whole planet with no added cost, and high-quality video can be produced with a few simple tools. For the first time, the terrain is no longer marked by either states or territories. The framework is universal. This has never existed before in the history of communication. It will be increasingly more difficult for us to talk about press, radio, television or the Internet and we will instead speak of social news networks. The communication and audiovisual field has spectacular prospects for growth over the next few years, but while everyone's role in this new field is being sorted out, we will still see many trying situations or economic models or businesses that will not be able to adapt.

And, as journalists, what can we do to adapt to this new environment?

SG: It is perhaps the traditional press that is suffering the most, but we are making great strides. In this respect, the master's degree we offer with the UOC – which broke new ground and is still a benchmark, despite the strong competition – aims to instil this need to adapt in students, made possible through the collaboration of Lavinia, the UOC and El Periódico de Catalunya, also a pioneer in many respects. The lines between different media are becoming increasingly blurred and, in this chaotic mix, credibility and rigour will continue to be important. The master's degree is aimed at students and professionals who will perhaps have to set out on their own and therefore need to apply some of the same logic as the media.

AE: I think that a training model like the UOC's is quite well adapted to the current situation of trial and error that we are all experiencing. The only way of knowing what will happen to the media over the next few years is to take a crack at it, make mistakes and then correct them, because few can say how things will be in 2020. In regard to training people who will have to work for this media, they must be very open-minded. Long-term content is no longer useful. Journalists will certainly go on telling stories, but beyond that everything is in flux, both in terms of technology and economic model.

How has the Master's Degree in Journalism, which was created 15 years ago as a postgraduate course, evolved to adapt to the new communication needs?

AE: We have been providing this training for 15 years and we should remember that YouTube has been around for 10, Twitter didn't exist and smartphones only appeared on the market 8 years ago. New technologies have presented themselves over time, so we are talking about models that converged at a time when we instinctively knew many of these things would come, even though they did not yet exist. We have had to evolve. Today, we must all stay humble, because we don't know where this world of communication is heading. More than knowledge, what we have to create is a permanent attitude of research, endeavouring to find new paths, new ways of reporting, explaining and stimulating.

What attitudes are needed by the new digital journalist? What is this mentality developed during the master's degree?

SG: It's about doing what we have always done. In local and regional journalism, which is where both Toni and I originally began, journalists did a little of everything. This multifaceted approach is now being facilitated by technology. Nevertheless, this versatility still has to be instilled. In this respect, an entrepreneurial spirit, knowing how to set up a company, how it is managed, how it is organized, as well as the more technical aspect of how information is created, depending on the medium and the language required in each case, is the concept we have to pass on to the people who want to work in this field. Above all, they must be proactive rather than passive and not be afraid of certain developments, because technology and the moment will allow us to progress.

So it is a question of adapting to ever-changing times.

AE: Some of the master's degree students have at least 45 years of professional life ahead; in other words, until 2060. The changes may be even bigger. People must be open and ready for change, able to tell stories and understand the language, and this not only means the written language, but also the language of technology. Technology is not the preserve of technicians. Over the next few years, we will need this kind of more versatile journalist. The media will change, but they will face the same challenge of how to explain things and be socially committed.

Is it possible that with this technology and, therefore, more media available to us, there will be more independence in creating content?

AE: In some cases, there might be more independence and also confusion. Sometimes, to withstand the pressures, economic support is needed. An economically solvent group can more easily take the pressure; those who depend on the income from their information gathering are highly vulnerable and, therefore, can lose their way, confusing content with more commercial ends or a mix of other things. 

SG: Independence is highly relative. It doesn't exist, strictly speaking, because we all depend on something, whether it is our community, our readers and subscribers or crowdfunding patrons. There is a kind of false debate about independence only being the privilege of small media outlets, which have a limited audience, and, in contrast, large media outlets that have sold out to political power. What technology guarantees is plurality. There is more competition without the need for enormous capital or excessively expensive resources. And now, what this allows is plurality, diversification and specialized content.

Although the frenzied pace of change makes it almost impossible to know, how might journalism evolve?

AE: Clearly there is no one answer but many. We do see that we are heading towards a far more audiovisual world and that another world, which we already sensed, is gradually creeping up on us: that of immersiveness. We see 3D, holography, glasses or programs, social networks, a model of immersion into content itself... We see many pieces of a model in which, instead of looking at a screen, we will be inside it, which therefore represents another way of understanding how to tell stories, another way of conceiving the media itself. We must prepare people to be able to provide this new news, entertainment or training content.


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