Marçal Sintes Olivella, Director of the Research Institute of Communications and International Relations at the Blanquerna-Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, has been fixated on the future of journalism for some time. His faculty is one of the first in Europe to investigate how blockchain technology can play a role in the information ecosystem. While on a recent trip to Barcelona, I spoke with Marçal about his findings. Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
1. Why did you start investigating blockchain as a solution for journalism?
MSO: A group of journalism professors and researchers came together more than a year ago. We felt it was worth exploring to what extent blockchain technology offered useful functions to help journalism and media, which are, as you know, in a stage of crisis and transition.
2. Few universities in the world, as far as I know, have researched this subject extensively. What have you discovered in your research?
MSO: Yes, it is true, there has not been much research done on blockchain and journalism in universities, although there are some who have started working on the subject. In our group, we made a number of discoveries that confirm for us that blockchain could be a useful tool for journalism. But that it is still in its initial stage, which means that we do not know how it will evolve, or whether it will be applied extensively to media. However, this should not hold us back.
3. Your students are conducting a worldwide survey of companies working on blockchain for journalism. How is that work going?
MSO: The group aims to map all the initiatives and projects that are being carried out in blockchain, journalism and the communication fields. We want to collect all this information and then be able to classify the different cases based on certain variables. The objective is to monitor over time what is being done in this area and then be able to draw conclusions from the data.
4. In your opinion, what are the main obstacles to implement blockchain technology in a newsroom?
MSO: Without a doubt, it’s ignorance about this highly complex technology. Another issue is technical problems with blockchain technology related to costs and processing speed.
5. Your university is based in Catalonia. What is the current situation of the media there?
MSO: It is quite similar to comparable countries. That is to say — it’s not good, especially when it comes to newspapers. Perhaps the biggest difference is that in Catalonia, media coexists in Spanish and Catalan.
6. How do you imagine journalism changing in the future?
MSO: We’re in a time of transition that is due to many factors — but above all, the accelerating change in public consumption habits and growing distrust of information will lead to something very different from what we know now. I believe that in the future there will not be just one single model for journalism, but that models will vary depending on medium and language. I think it will take many years until we can say that the picture for journalism is as stable as it was in the second half of the 20th century. Until then, we will live a convulsive period and experience many changes as experiments are conducted through trial and error.