‘Semantic news’ and the rise of the robots: Mario Tascón’s full interview

La Informacion's bizarre process triangle

Journalism.co.uk asked me to write an article about interesting online projects in the Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian publishing  markets, and  I decided to start with LaInformacion.com, a spanish online news website that has some special characteristics. I interviewed Mario Tascón, head of Diximedia, the company that runs the project, for the article, that you can read here. Below is the full interview, in the English version. Tascón also writes in 233grados, his blog about media. If you understand Spanish, check it out.

If you know other interesting and groundbreaking online news projects in any of these countries, let me know. Thanks.


Mario Tascón’s interview

-At first sight, La informacion seems like an ordinary news website. What makes it different?

The fact that it looks like a regular website when a big part of it is made by machines is already a difference. From 12.am until 6.30 in the morning, the editor in chief is an algorithm that selects and organizes the news that we get. It analyzes trends in real time in social networks and search engines. It’s a less expensive way to maintain a website during certain periods, and if you can’t notice it, it’s because it doesn’t work that bad

Another difference is the amount of information. More than 5.000 stories get into the system every day, among videos, texts and infographics. A website like elpais.com doesn’t have more than 1.000 stories like those each day.

I believe that usability and the design of the website make also a difference, that has been recognized by users and professionals (in such a short amount of time we had lots of international awards in both of those areas.)

The way the newsroom is designed is another difference. It’s a networked newsroom, as it is a network of partnerships with other players. As an example, a great deal of information about football is made with resultados-futbol.com, which is a social network with thousands of youngsters.

The international affairs are also covered mostly through the partnership with the Global Post, and the Technology news are covered with Microsiervos, which is the most well known blog about the subject in Spain.

The way we deal with the different channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) is different too. Most of the media treat them all the in same way, but for us, the language itself is quite specific.

-How does La Informacion work? It’s not a traditional process of journalistic newsgathering, but it’s not just aggregation. Where does the concept of “semantic news” fit in?

Lainformacion has a great technological frame that lists thousands of news in real time, so we use fewer resources regarding the “breaking news” traditional concept, to which the digital media dedicate so much effort. Breaking news are analyzed by the machines, using that “semantic intelligence”. Having that part of the job in the hands of the algorithms most of the journalistic resources are dedicated to search or elaborate stories and provide them added value when published, and also to try new narratives and experiment with different technologies:

a.- Panoramical Megafotos panorámicas of landscapes, monuments, events or exhibitions
http://blogs.lainformacion.com/megafotos/2010/01/12/el-palacio-de-cristal-bajo-la-nieve/
b.- tag clouds of political speeches

http://graficos.lainformacion.com/2010/01/bush-hablaba-de-guerra-obama-habla-de-economia/

c.-F1 drivers comparisons
http://graficos.lainformacion.com/2010/01/comparativa-de-pilotos-favoritos-para-el-mundial-de-formula-1/
d.- own production vídeos http://videos.lainformacion.com/
e.- special packages
http://graficos.lainformacion.com/2010/01/haiti-siete-dias-y-la-nada/
http://especiales.lainformacion.com/ciencia/hombre-en-la-luna-40-aniversario/

The semantic listing systems allow us to treat more than 100.00 pages in real time with information about 100.00 concepts from companies to people.
http://tags.lainformacion.com/steve-jobs_P_MyGx3iZlNvxaKogkbIOtb3/

Here you have collected the most important news about Apple, eliminating the noise and listing the news immediately. You have to remember that we don’t reproduce full texts, so the analysis work is complex but with an accuracy rate of 95%.

We eliminate the noise  (most of the news come from the wire and get repeated) and we select from each subject group within a category the best, the most interesting or complete. It’s impossible to do that work manually.

-Is user generated content a part of your sources? Why? What is the real value that UGC brings?

It’s one of the areas that we still haven’t developed in lainformacion and we have examples of what we want to do in that field with Praticopedia.com ,where we even share the ad revenue with the users.

-What has been the biggest investment in La informacion? I don’t have the idea you have much of your own multimedia content production, for example.

Technology and newsroom. There’s a lot of content that we create and buy.

-La informacion is just one year old, and it is freshly out of the beta phase. How has it been so far? I know it has been having a steady, fast growth in audience.

We have grown a lot in terms of audience (in December we had 1.6 million users in Nielsen’s ratings whereas elmundo.es had 6 million). Considering that we only launched officially in September (after a few months in beta) it’s a good number. We need to establish an audience, that visit us regularly and transfer the success we have on twitter and facebook to create a larger virtual community.

-What is your business model? Is it just based in advertising? What do you think about the pay wall proposals, can it happen with La Informacion?

It is mostly supported by publicity. [Pay walls] are not going to work for those who want to develop the business. If the main goal is to protect print let them shut down their websites but they will kill their brands by doing so. I ran elpais.com in the time where we set up a wall like that…

-What is the importance of social media in your strategy?

Paramount. It’s one of the keys to our success right now. We differentiate the channels, and apply to each one of them a specific language that we learn from our users every day.

Lainformacion.com is the only medium in the world that has its “status” in the header. It’s a declaration of principles.

-The market and the technology are developing faster than any model has time to establish itself. What are the next steps for La informacion?

To be fast and focus on what we know how to do best. And in the rest associate with those who do it well […]. Invest more in new contents and apps for news contents.

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