The debate on the survival of traditional media is old. And at the same time, completely current. From the difficulties of the model anchored in advertising to the coexistence of journalism with new technologies based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, much is still unknown about the future of newspapers. But the future has arrived and at the hands of people like Francesco Marconi, professor of Business of Journalism at Columbia’s School of Journalism, one of the most esteemed in the world, and co-founder of Applied XL.

It was right on the plane on the way to New York City that he realized that his trip would be much longer than anticipated. Francesco Marconi is Portuguese, born and raised in Coimbra, the son of a Portuguese mother and an Italian father. After studying economics in Portugal and Italy, he traveled to New York in 2009 for a one-year internship at the United Nations.

In a typical plane conversation, a passenger told him that the first time he had traveled to New York he also thought it was temporary, but the decades went by. With Francesco Marconi, history seems to be repeating itself. And his career seemed to indicate anything but a career among journalists. But on stage at the United Nations, he realized the importance of journalism to society and excited his interest.

“Journalism is much more than telling stories and reporting. Journalism has the power and influence necessary to create social, cultural and economic change.” – Francesco Marconi

When he finished his internship, he decided to take a master’s degree in Data Journalism at the University of Missouri and has since come a long way in a short time. He was at the forefront of the automation and artificial intelligence of Associated Press – one of the oldest and largest news agencies in the world, and the most innovative – headed the Research & Development department of the Wall Street Journal, for two years, another colossus in the world press, until finally decided to take on all this knowledge and create his own company, the Applied XL, of which he is a co-founder.

The application of these technologies, which sometimes appear in the media in a simplistic way like robots that write news, is the future, he says. But that doesn’t mean journalists are going to be replaced by robots, or they’re going to become obsolete. Journalism is inherently human.

“The first question I’m asked, whenever I talk about the topic, particularly journalists, is ‘am I going to have to worry about losing my job? and ‘will a computer replace me?’. The answer is no. Editorial systems that are automated have to be developed with the principles of journalistic integrity and transparency, and these principles are human principles.” – Francesco Marconi

The advantages, when well applied, of having these systems integrated into modern newsrooms are the impossible information processing capability for a human being – such as large amounts of financial data – and freeing up more journalists who are stuck in routine tasks for more important issues, he says.

“These new techniques are being widely used in research journalism, which everyone has had some experience or read. Investigations such as Luanda Leaks or the Panama Papers. There are millions and millions of documents in which there are links of entities within these documents – people, bank accounts, companies, countries, cities. These entities form a network of information that to the human eye, these links, these patterns, are completely hidden. And that’s where artificial intelligence comes in, technologies like Natural Language Processing, that can identify these patterns and connect a series of documents to a person, and see the person’s connection to a company, and that company to another network of companies.” – Francesco Marconi

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