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AFP CEO EMMANUEL HOOG talks about The Future of Media

January 19, 2018

One of the three global news agencies, AFP has regional offices in 165 countries. Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of AFP, Mr. Emmanuel Hoog, on his visit to Japan in September, talked about their role and IT strategy in this digital information society.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Hoog visits the AFP photo exhibition ”Sport and Tradition” at Maison Franco-Japonaise in Tokyo on September 15, 2017. The event features images of traditional sports shot throughout the world by photographers in AFP's global network. ©AFP/Kazuhiro NOGI

──Since 1835 when AFP’s precursor Agence Havas was founded, as the world’s first international news agency, or since 1944 when it reformed as AFP, in the history up to the present, what has been the biggest social change?

Mr. Hoog:
Like all global news agencies and the media in general, AFP has undergone several transformations linked to the evolution of information technology and trends in media consumption.

Since the time when messenger pigeons were used to carry news, AFP has never stopped adapting to technological advances that enable the transmission of text, photos, graphics and video at faster speeds, and now even in real time.

Our photo service was established in France very soon after the end of World War II but it was not until 1985 that it became an international service with global recognition. The graphics service also emerged gradually to become an essential part of the Agency’s output. Photo and graphics were pioneers in the age of news consumption in image form.

We only launched into video in the early 2000s. Since 2010 I have made this a strategic priority for the Agency’s development by establishing a video wire dedicated to breaking news and live coverage. As we must write for all formats, starting with mobile devices, we must film for all types of media and all formats, including by live streaming. People now access news through images, which has been a revolution for all the newsrooms on the planet.

Alongside the changes necessary for increasingly diverse and multifaceted markets, AFP has had to face two further challenges: strengthen its network and remain unyielding in terms of output quality.

And, of course, digital models have demolished traditional models.

The Agency can be proud of its ability to innovate and adapt. I only need to cite one figure: 50% of our revenues now come from products that did not even exist 30 years ago. And our recent contract with the BBC is further evidence of our excellence in the field of video and also in the rest of our content.

Journalists of AFP political departement work on February 5, 2014 at the headquarters of the global news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Paris. ©AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG

──How has the relationship between society and media changed? And, thereby, how has the role of media changed?

Mr. Hoog:
It is an obvious truth that the relationship between the media and society has changed considerably in recent years. In democratic societies the media have always served as a check and balance – or a ”Fourth Estate” * - against political or economic powers. But today public confidence in this instrument of freedom and debate has seriously eroded.

Add to this the fact that the structure of media groups has changed considerably and become reliant on the telecom industry, among others. And also that the dominance of the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) has affected an economic model that had already been much weakened by the crisis in the world press. Not to mention that the loss of confidence in the press and journalists is now mirrored by the phenomenon of mass-produced viral content, including images on social media. In a sense, anyone who owns a smartphone and is active on social media can create news.

This photograph taken on September 28, 2017, shows a smartphone being operated in front of GAFA logos (acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon web giants) as background in Hédé-Bazouges, western France. ©Damien MEYER/AFP

In the middle of all the noise, which can include the best but often the worst, it is our duty and mission to provide verified and reliable information, to uphold loud and clear the values of objectivity and reliability, allowing people to develop their own critical minds.

──For these 10 years, AFP seems to have significantly changed its contents distribution system. Formerly, it had executed a business model of exclusive distribution to the mass media in the world. Currently, it is actively operating simultaneous distribution to customers via SNS (Social Network Services) such as Facebook, blogs… What is your intention?

Mr. Hoog:
AFP has always produced news as fast as possible as a constant flow of multimedia content, and has probably been able to adapt to the digital revolution more quickly than many other media. Unlike others, we have not needed to completely rethink a print-based model with rigid deadlines. What we did have to do is adapt our content to new media in order to make it legible and attractive.

We considered very quickly, for example, that social networks were not “enemies” or competitors but rather an opportunity to multiply our sources. Often today the first images of a major event are posted on social media and it is our job to verify them, allowing our clients to use them without being exposed to copyright problems. It is also up to us to source the best and discard the worst. We have completed and reinforced our ethical charters to provide our journalists with clear guidelines: on one hand, how to use social media; on the other, how to maintain a presence on social media when you represent a brand as powerful as AFP.

──How ICT can distribute to AFP?

Mr. Hoog:
As I have said, new information and communication technologies are pushing us to continuously adopt new forms of delivery: today the APIs, tomorrow other ones.

A dedicated group works on innovation with a cross-functional approach involving editorial, technical and marketing teams. Our goal is to listen to our users in order to create new solutions. Today our editorial teams use drones and practise data journalism on a daily basis. We also need to be more open to partnerships and lay the groundwork for new products or services based on artificial intelligence or the automation of part of what we do, including information verification.

We will have to learn to work with robots, to delegate tasks to them to leverage their speed, their ability to analyse data, to mass produce. But journalists must stay at the helm at all times to select data, to precisely define content, to ensure that algorithms do not generate harmful bias. For this we will need new skills, with journalists, developers and data specialists working together.

The hottest multimedia platform ”AFP Forum” ©AFP

──In the future, how does AFP intend to contribute to this digital information society?

Mr. Hoog:
AFP will always remain true to its fundamentals: producing verified and reliable information. The challenge today is to get this verified and reliable information out as widely as possible. It’s up to us to innovate to create ever-more attractive formats, especially for younger generations. We must also be more open to new digital players and to the corporate sector through new offers.

This is the strategy we are developing with our APIs. Digital platforms are great consumers of content. Our ambition is to address their needs with flawless quality. (organized by Round Table Com, Inc. Active IP Media Labo; Photo: AFP)

* The term ”fourth estate”, meaning a part of society which has an indirect but significant influence, e.g. news media, comes from traditional European concept of the three estates of the realm: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The term is attributed to Edmund Burke, politician and philosopher.

Emmanuel Hoog

Emmanuel Hoog, Agence France-Presse (AFP) Chairman & Chief Executive Officer. He is an experienced administrator of media and cultural bodies.The 55-year-old was formerly head of the National Audiovisual Institute (INA), France's public film and video archive, where he had overseen a huge program to digitize hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. ©AFP/Eric FEFERBERG

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