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Globe and Mail’s Sophi creates print-ready edition with AI at Agderposten

By Sonali Verma

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Agderposten is a Norwegian newspaper that publishes 30 to 60 pages daily. Its editors spent a great deal of effort to lay down the newspaper each evening, so company leaders decided to look for a solution that would give the editors back the time they spent and allow them to focus on journalism instead.  

Was there a way to produce camera-ready pages that looked and felt like they had been created by experienced designers and editors — but were, in reality, autonomously built by automation powered by artificial intelligence?   

The Globe and Mail had been working on solving the AI challenges at the heart of this problem — using a suite of tools we call Sophi — when we were introduced to Agderposten by Naviga.

Agderposten became the pilot customer for Naviga Publisher powered by Sophi.
Agderposten became the pilot customer for Naviga Publisher powered by Sophi.

Agderposten agreed to be the pilot customer for Naviga Publisher powered by Sophi. We worked together to get to the point where all they needed to lay down the print section was a “Print My Newspaper” button.   

Turning hours into minutes

Agderposten’s editors selected the content they wanted to print, prioritised it, and could also specify how much of the page they’d like to devote to a particular article.   

Sophi ran all the AI work behind the scenes within one minute to create the print-ready newspaper without using any templates — all while maintaining the look and feel of the newspaper. Agderposten’s editors could hit the print button and be done, or alter the paper as news broke, then rerun the automated process within a minute – on either the entire paper or just on the pages they wanted to update. 

 

Sophi automation uses AI to create the page layout.
Sophi automation uses AI to create the page layout.

“With Naviga Publisher and Sophi, creating an entire layout for 44 to 50 pages takes just minutes, which potentially gives content producers more time to work on their articles before having to go to layout,” said Agderposten Editor-in-Chief Øyvind Klausen. 

The new print process automates up to 80% of Agderposten’s editorial pages. 

“Sophi and Naviga Publisher have enabled our news organisation to develop the same high-quality newspaper with fewer resources… And the newspaper still looks like Agderposten; we can’t tell the difference between pages laid out autonomously and those laid out by the newsroom,” said Bjørn Robert Knudsen, director of technology at Agderposten. 

It's impossible to distinguish the difference between pages designed by AI and those laid out by the newsroom.
It's impossible to distinguish the difference between pages designed by AI and those laid out by the newsroom.

How does Sophi do it?

Sophi is an AI system developed by The Globe and Mail’s data scientists and tailored to address real-life newsroom problems and situations. 

To make a product that looks like it was created by talented designers, the newspaper provides style guidance as input for Sophi to work with: e.g., fonts, the acceptable range of headline types and white space on a page, the number of images desired on any page, and any page furniture. 

Daily, editors draw up a list of their top stories and roughly prioritise them. The page plan that shows the news hole and ad placements is also a key input. 

The AI automation then uses these inputs as well as article metadata, metrics from digital channels, and e-paper data to select and further prioritise content and place it on the pages. 

The model can test millions of combinations of content, images, pull quotes, preambles, and graphical items on a page. Sophi will imagine somewhere between 2,000 and 20,000 versions of every story and then begin figuring out all the possible combinations to build pages.

Using natural language processing, Sophi can also understand which articles are thematically related and place them accordingly. If editors want to draw primarily on staff content and use wire only as filler, Sophi understands this hierarchy. It also takes care of zoning and editioning. 

Editors can receive a Slack notification that shows them the pages and are able to manually override any algorithmic choices. This feeds back into the machine-learning model so it can make better decisions in the future. 

One thing the software does not do is change the story by adding or omitting words. Content is truly king, and the editors are saved the hassle of trimming copy to fit.

About Sonali Verma

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