News design veteran Mario García envisions the AI storm disrupting publishing

December 14, 2023 – 2 min. read

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, 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 — including several newsrooms running CUE. 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.

The 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 including CUE.

In his book, Garcia includes a chapter on the approach to AI taken by Stibo DX in the CUE media enterprise platform. CUE incorporates AI-driven automation alongside simpler algorithms to assist editorial functions. This approach features AI automation for tasks like metadata auto-filling and automated caption generation, story variant generation tailored to specific audiences, and augmented text editing, offering in-line suggestions and content structuring assistance.

In page layout design, Stibo DX employs a methodical approach, beginning with rule-based automation that respects design standards and editorial control, progressing towards AI-enabled page production. CUE uses AI to adjust content based, suggesting optimal image focal points, headlines, and text adjustments to fit design templates, illustrating Stibo DX's commitment to maintaining control over AI applications and avoiding "black box" solutions. This strategy ensures that the unique character of each publication is preserved while harnessing the efficiency and innovation offered by AI.

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 that AI-generated content requires clear labeling.

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 traveler (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, that 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.

Who is Mario Garcia?

Dr. Mario R. García
CEO/Founder, García Media
Senior Adviser on News Design/Adjunct Professor
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Hearst Digital Media Professor in Residence (2013)
X: @DrMarioRGarcia