Automated layout gives Groupe La Dépêche newsroom more time for journalism

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


Time is precious, and that’s especially true when hyperlocal news coverage means tight deadlines. To deliver hyperlocal news, part of the commitment Groupe La Dépêche made to its readers, they needed to find a way to give their journalists more time to do what they do best — create good content.

Groupe La Dépêche is a daily regional newspaper with 17 editions for different areas of France’s Occitanie region, including both print and digital products. And since print still represents 40% of the business, it’s important to monitor the decline of print while accelerating the growth on the digital side. During this INMA Webinar, representatives from Groupe La Dépêche and Protecmedia shared how Protecmedia is helping them on both fronts.

Maximising time of 700 journalists

“We have a very strong and loyal audience,” said Michäel Bourguignon, the director of revenue, digital development, and IT at Groupe La Dépêche, “and we’re natural leaders at the local level.” These are two of what Bourguignon said are Groupe La Dépêche’s assets that will help them succeed.

Groupe La Dépêche has several assets that work in its favour as it accelerates digital growth.
Groupe La Dépêche has several assets that work in its favour as it accelerates digital growth.

The third asset is also part of the challenge for which they required Protecmedia’s help. “We have more than 700 journalists and local correspondents,” Bourguignon said, “and a commitment to our readers to deliver local coverage for all territories in the group’s region.”

With more than 1,200 articles produced every single day, they needed to find a way to handle the layout for all this content “in an industrial way” to maximise the time reporters spend on reporting.

A weekly template structure

They got Protecmedia’s help on the print side, establishing a weekly structure with specific layout templates for each day of the week and categorised based on postcodes.

Christophe Julia, the head of digital production for Groupe La Dépêche, said this means that, for instance, “On Mondays we use Template A for postcodes 1 and 2, and writers for postcodes 1 and 2 have specific space in the publication. Tuesdays we use Template B for postcodes 3 and 4, and writers for postcodes 3 and 4 have space in the publication, and so on.”

The rotating template schedule at Groupe La Dépêche.
The rotating template schedule at Groupe La Dépêche.

Each writer has a designated region of coverage, and their work will be published on a fixed layout on a weekly basis that repeats every week. Just by implementing this template-based production system, Julia said, they’ve seen an average of 30% reduction in daily production effort.

This simplifies the work of the journalists, Bourguignon said. “The key value of journalists is to produce content,” so it’s important to let them concentrate on that.

Layout automation with AIDA

The second step, which Bourguignon called “Web first,” is about changing both how they think about information but also a change in production timing. “We have to make it easier for the journalist so they don’t have to repeat the same operation twice.” This is still a work in progress, but this is where Protecmedia is guiding them on a revolutionary roadmap to a newsroom 3.0.

“It’s all about your audience and good coverage,” said María Arena Filgueira, chief marketing officer for Protecmedia. “We want to give reporters more time and flexibility to spend on reporting.”

To help Groupe La Dépêche do that, Filgueria said, they’re using one part of Protecmedia’s “ecosystem” — Artificial Intelligence Design Assistant, or AIDA.

AIDA automates the print layout process so that the editorial team has more time to do relevant work. Rather than journalists spending some of their precious time not just creating the content but also managing the layout for multiple platforms, AIDA does some of the formatting work for them.

Three AIDA stages

There are three stages for implementing AIDA, with the level of automation increasing at each stage. Groupe La Dépêche is currently in the first stage.

1. The first stage is essentially a “drag and drop” system. The AIDA tool allows users to “merge the Web text into a design chosen manually by the user,” Filgueria said. The user must choose the print layout for each article, but AIDA makes all the necessary formatting changes to things like typography and photo size to make it fit automatically.

AIDA's first stage allows the user to drag content from the Web site and drop it into a layout they have chosen.
AIDA's first stage allows the user to drag content from the Web site and drop it into a layout they have chosen.

2. With the second stage, AIDA uses a predetermined set of rules and metadata to assign the correct template for the web text the user wants to include. The user must establish these rules in advance, but once that’s done, AIDA takes one more step off the journalist’s plate by choosing the best print layout for each article.

3. The most advanced stage is “a bit like magic,” Filgueria said, because AIDA “creates the entire publication based on the list of URLs provided by the newsroom.” Again, rules must be established in advance — for instance, if you always want opinion pieces to appear on a specific page, or you always want a certain layout for specific pages. Editorial staff can also tell AIDA to leave certain pages alone if they want to manually do something special. But within the rules you’ve set, AIDA does all the layout work for you.

“It’s like those programmes that automatically create a photo book from all the pictures on your phone,” Filgueria said. You want to make it your own, give it your special touch, but the programme speeds the process up significantly.

This is why Protecmedia insists newsrooms adopt AIDA in stages.

“Every newsroom is going to need to make it their own to learn to work with the system,” she said.

The entire Protecmedia ecosystem, of which AIDA is only one part.
The entire Protecmedia ecosystem, of which AIDA is only one part.

The amount of time newsrooms can save is a matter of a little bit of math, Filgueria explained. For Groupe La Dépêche, there are 13 editions each day that each have 40 pages, for a total of 520 pages per day. If, for instance, they decide to automate 100 of those, that’s a 20% time savings. And AIDA works for groups of all sizes, not just organisations with multiple daily editions. What’s more, although AIDA is part of the Protecmedia ecosystem, it’s an open solution that’s designed to work with any CMS solution.

“It’s not a case of needing fewer journalists,” Julia said. “It’s about giving our journalists more time.”

About Jessica Spiegel

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