The extraordinary humility of Aron Pilhofer was the main lesson of the panel on Internet and politics, which Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, was supposed to have attended but, at the last minute, changed his mind. Pilhofer, who is the editor of Interactive News for the New York Times, could have talked down to us, speaking from his eminent position. Instead, he explained that he did not understand anything and we have not understood anything. “One of the greatest digital divides is in the media and most of the media is on the wrong side of the digital divide”. Not only infrastructure and culture, but journalism is also in danger of being swept up in the redefinition of the ecosystem of information and of the power that is sometimes more skilled than those who should control it by handling the new digital tools.
“We do not understand social media, big data“, says Pilhofer, and thoughts turn immediately to Italy and the rise of Beppe Grillo from a few people to 25 percent. Columnists, pollsters and tweet calculaters not only did not manage to foresee the phenomenon, they did not understand its social and individual roots. It is the loss of authority and legitimacy of journalism that does not want nor is able to be brought into question. Instead, it looks for a dazzling joke for social networks rather than pronouncing a Socratic and healthy ‘All I know is that I know nothing’. To his credit, Pilhofer not only did it, he also proposed a solution: “greater sophistication in the analysis”. According to Pilhofer, it is thanks to that increased complexity which Nate Silver says was the main source of internet traffic for the New York Times during the presidential election of 2012. Readers wanted that level of sophistication in the analysis and only Silver was able to give it to them.
While we hit our heads against the representativeness (almost zero) of Twitter users compared to the whole of public opinion, let us ask ourselves if we journalists are able to satisfy the desire for sophistication by readers and to tell them something they do not know. Will we be able to? A test of humility indeed.