News design veteran Mario García envisions AI storm disrupting publishing

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


At the age of 76, renowned visual journalist Mario García retains a childlike curiosity for the latest revolution in journalism and publishing — Artificial Intelligence.

In his new book AI: The Next Revolution in Content Creation, to be published with Thane & Prose in the fall of 2023, García explores the rise of AI and its potential to disrupt journalism and publishing.

Garcia has spent over 50 years transforming print newspapers and news sites around the world — from Aftenposten in Norway to The Wall Street Journal in the United States. Apart from consulting, he teaches mobile-first storytelling at Columbia University in New York.

He tells an INMA interviewer that his longevity in an ever-changing industry is due to staying alert to coming storms — just like dogs can sense an impending hurricane. (García was born in Cuba and raised in Florida where hurricanes are regular.)

He felt the storm coming before the previous newspaper industry shifts to colour printing, digital and most recently the mobile revolution. “I am feeling it again,” he declares. 

Magical realism of AI

“AI blurs the line between what is real and what is magical,” he says, referring to Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez and his style. 

While hooked by the magical capabilities of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT or Midjourney, the journalist retains his devotion to realism. AI can augment but not replace human creativity. He advocates responsible adoption focused on enhancing journalism rather than just efficiency.

For example, García sees generative AI as a “great help” for visual journalism, his primary domain of interest. 

  • Infographics: Automatically generating bite-sized informational graphics such as charts and maps can save newsrooms time and money, allowing them to devote resources to interactive packages around the big news stories. 

  • Illustrations: Gen-AI can help smaller publications that lack illustrators by automatically generating images to accompany each and every story, and improve the quality. “When I started playing with Midjourney, I felt like a toddler with a box of crayons,” he admits.

  • Automated layouts: For print publications, Garcia says layout and pagination often “suck the oxygen” out of newsrooms, taking time away from producing mobile-first content. “AI is already doing a fantastic job in automating print layout,” he believes, after studying the latest content management systems by Aptoma of Norway, Eidos of Italy, and StiboDX of Denmark.

Inviting AI to the newsroom

Drawing on decades of experience ushering change in newsrooms, García says the key is respecting veteran journalists’ hard-won expertise.

“If you begin with respect, these people are going to approach change better than if you come as an agent of change and tell them: ‘You are a bunch of idiots, and everything you’re doing is wrong.’”

He advocates showing specific examples of how AI can enhance their work instead of dictating absolutes: “You better say: ‘Let me show you how you can do your job better.’ This is what my book is about. If I can learn it at 76, you can succeed, too. Just have an open mind!”

While optimistic about AI’s potential, García stresses the need for human oversight. Publishers concerned about preserving their reputation and customers’ trust should establish guidelines for using AI internally. For example, he argues AI-generated content requires clear labelling.

The newsroom of dreams

Mario García is a man of routines: a morning run, an evening glass of champagne. 

The morning run helps this frequent traveller (150+ days on the road a year) catch sun rays and adapt to a new time zone. After the run, García chats with GPT-4 daily to learn how it works. 

“I say, ‘Good morning!’ and the robot is never surprised, unlike my family members whom I wake up when I mess up the time zones and call them at 1 a.m. instead of 1 p.m.”

The journalist and the machine bonded so close, one night García wished GPT-4 “sweet dreams.” The robot objected: “I don’t dream. I am not a human.”

In the book, García told a story about how the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, offered to visualise the visitors’ dreams. I asked García for a description of his dream newsroom.

He imagined tomorrow’s newsrooms fully embrace AI as an ever-present assistant providing ideas, visuals, and templates on demand. I typed the answer to Dall-E, an AI image generator, and asked to visualise Mario García’s dream. 

“Oh! Oh! This is what I imagined. Wow!” he sighed.

Mario García will showcase premium user experiences on mobile and with AI at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in New York in February 2024. Check the agenda and join us! 

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. INMA members may subscribe here.

About Greg Piechota

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