"Meet the media" is a series of interviews with journalists. This conversation, however, will be special. Mariusz Pleban, CEO of OneMulti, talks to Vadim Makarenko, a longshoreman from Gazeta Wyborcza, a pioneer of "data journalism", involved in BIQdata and Jutronauci projects, however... no longer a journalist. But are we sure?
Mariusz Pleban: Vadim, it's been more than two years since you no longer work at Gazeta. During the pandemic you left the BIQdata project and are now developing your career in the Statista team. What were the reasons behind this decision?
Vadim Makarenko: I wanted to try something new, both in working with data, which I was increasingly interested in as a journalist, and in working with a new audience. From this perspective, I was interested in topics that were niche for a national daily, such as how often CEOs of technology companies talk about artificial intelligence, the cloud, or VR during teleconferences. Which products do they mention more often and which less often, etc.? My bosses were very understanding towards me and many of the similar things BIQdata managed to do. But after nearly 25 years, I was eager to see what the world was like outside the industry and outside Poland.
MP: So explain to all interested parties where you work (geographically), what your position is and what you do now, what sectors you analyze.
VM: I work at Statista's headquarters in Hamburg. I am the director of a department that collects and analyzes data for industries such as media, advertising and marketing, telecommunications, broad technology and the Internet. I have four teams with a total of about 30 people.
MP: How does your journalism experience help you these days?
VM: In the big picture, it helps to get the conclusions of our analyses to our clients. On a more detailed level, it helps to identify important areas and plan the work of teams, to work on products, i.e. reports and statistics, and to develop the communication and analytical skills of my employees towards describing companies and trends, conducting webinars, etc.
MP: Tell us what are the similarities and differences in working in an analytical firm and in an editorial office.
VM: At first glance, the work is very similar: we gather information and write. That is, like the media, we create content. However, when it comes to products, their goals and usability, audiences and the planning process, everything is different. To a much lesser extent than the media we work “for yesterday”; teams make plans for the whole year. This doesn't mean that we don't react to current events – we have thematic pages dedicated to product launches, which we update on the day of the event or the next day. We also do quick reports taking into account the current popularity of certain topics. A good example is AI, about which we now aggregate a lot of data. Unlike journalists, we rarely interact with people, because we primarily interact with numbers. In addition to the pace, the approach to data and methodology and the management of already finished material are different. In analysis, all products are important, including old ones, because they allow you to create new ones. In other words, one works on a library/catalog. In this sense, analysis retains its usefulness much longer than the materials that are produced in the media. The degree of usefulness of analysis and news is different. We have it in the back of our minds that people use our materials to determine the size of the market, segment it or analyze the competition.
MP: When I put your name into the Wyborcza’s search engine it still pops up single texts of your authorship. 4 this year to be exact. Can't you get away from your profession? Maybe this is the reason why many people still think you work at Czerska street?
VM: I always wanted to be a journalist and I still love this profession. That's why, when I left Wyborcza and was offered permanent cooperation, I was very happy. And I continue to co-host the podcast Jutronauci, which I started myself in April 2020. Perhaps many people think I'm still at Wyborcza for this very reason, although I introduce myself as a Statista employee every time, and my podcast conversations later published in Wyborcza are also labeled as such. In it I realize my need to meet and talk to people who are doing something important in their fields, so I learn new things and understand the world better. In doing so, I use not only the knowledge and experience I've gained over 25 years as a journalist, but also those I have from Statista. I've done podcasts about quick commerce or buy now pay later, and these are the topics that our analysts at Statista deal with. Contact with a live expert allows me to verify various assumptions, and on top of that, it often inspires me to define and follow new areas.
MP: What skills do you consider key for a journalist and how have you worked to develop them?
VM: I never formulated it as consciously as it sounds in your question. In retrospect, I think it's about continuous learning. At some point I became interested in data, analyzing it, showing it and building stories on it. So I had to learn a lot of tools to do that. Some of these tools got old, new ones came in, others changed. I somehow try to keep up with all this with varying degrees of success. The same thing is happening with AI. I'm putting a lot of time and effort into learning how to work with new tools, going through online training, attending webinars, reading. I'm also starting a small experimental project in my Statista department to teach people how to work with the tool.
The problem with journalism is that it used to be enough to be able to write and have knowledge of the areas you cover. Now, in addition to these, let's say, two broad skills, there is a whole sphere related to presenting one's work (webinars, conferences, etc.), OSINT, data analysis and visualization. Graphics, video, maps and interactive materials showing, for example, the effects of the earthquake in Turkey, etc., require a very wide range of competencies. Meanwhile, the market is paying journalists less and less, as the media business is in crisis and looking for new models.
MP: Let's imagine the situation that you return to the world of media one day, to 100% journalism. What 3 inspirations would you take away from the world of analytics?
VM: A lot depends on which media we are talking about. It seems to me that there is a problem with project management in editorial offices, but I recently heard that this is partly because these people are poorly paid. I don't know if this is true. I rather think that in many editorial offices they are not there at all. The second inspiration is the automation of content production where it is possible. It seems to me that there are still very few dashboards in Polish media that take data from open sources and display it on their sites. The third is a training system that will allow journalists to constantly learn new tools. But these are some tales of an ideal world. I assume that in the real world, the media simply don't need these competencies enough to invest in them, because the Polish mass audience doesn't need them.
MP: Now that our imagination has gone so far and we are already in the media world, please tell us what are the 3 biggest benefits of working with PR teams? How does a PR agency or a company's PR team help the editorial team?
VM: I don't know how it is now. Over the last 10 years, this communication has changed a lot, and during this time my contacts with PR were less and less frequent. I simply wrote less, and was more focused on intra-editorial work. It is still somehow necessary to get out the position of companies or offices on some issues, so here I still see some area for cooperation.
MP: Maybe PR professionals also have some areas for improvement? Do you have any tips for PR professionals?
VM: I try not to give tips publicly and at a high level of generality. Many of the ones I used to give to various companies and professional groups were naive and betrayed a lack of knowledge of reality. It's like those inspirations we take from one world to another. Sure, different industries have cool solutions, but other industries don't have them most often because they don't provide a competitive advantage.
MP: In your current job you are close to AI, you have a huge amount of experience as a journalist. How do you think AI will affect the work of journalists 1 year from now?
VM: In my opinion, a lot of repetitive activities will be automated: summaries, social media posts, etc. Take such a genre as summarizing a two-hour long panel discussion. AI will do it in 2 minutes, and an editor will correct it in 15 minutes. It used to take several hours. Another example – translating articles. It used to be a whole field, but today I don't see the point in it, because I read a lot of content in foreign languages I don't speak.
In addition, we will face a deluge of artificially generated content, and breaking through this will not be easy. The thing with AI is that whatever a company gets out of it, its competitors will be able to do the same. That's why investigations, reports and original analysis will be especially valuable. And producing these authoritative, high-quality materials will mean continuous training in new areas with declining revenues. Coping with this is a huge challenge for editors.
MP: In conclusion – if you were neither a journalist nor an analyst, what would you be doing?
VM: I have no idea. I've been doing what I do for too long.
MP: Thank you for the interview.
We invite you to read interviews with other journalists and women journalists: