Politiken’s SML model is good for print and digital

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


Politiken’s approach to print is reliant on changing workflows as opposed to implementing technology — but the end result is the same: big changes that have made print much more efficient. 

Its initiative is called the “SML model” — assigning stories within five lengths, from S (small) to XXL (extra-extra large). Decisions on lengths are made between the journalist and editor.

A small has a length of between 2,600-2,700 characters. At a minimum, it only needs words, a top picture, and links. An XXL is between 9,100-9,200 characters and needs multiple elements such as a fact box and pictures embedded in the body text.

Politiken's SML model uses templates dictated by the length of news articles.
Politiken's SML model uses templates dictated by the length of news articles.

“We have developed hundreds of templates for the printed paper with ‘shapes’ in different sizes,” said Thomas Berndt, managing online editor and chief news editor at Politiken. “If the print team wants a S and a L on the same page, they choose a template that includes an S and L, and then they simply drag and drop the articles into each shape. They may need to change the headline, but otherwise it should be relatively little adjustment that is needed for each article. It’s possible to write longer stories than that in special situations, like a big Sunday interview, but they are exceptions.”

Berndt said it’s hard to quantify the exact savings from the system since time saved comes in many shapes and forms. But he offered a few examples and data points:

  • The design team’s work schedule was previously 89% focused on print only or print mostly. Now, it’s 52%.

  • A lifestyle section on Saturdays used to take a designer four days to do the layout. Now, the designer does it in one day.

  • Previously, separate designers worked on the first and second section. Now the same designer does both.

  • In January, before the workflow changes, the design team spent 89% of its time on shifts with a print-only/print-mostly focus. Now, it’s closer to 50/50.

  • For the printed version, Politiken used to have a news editor working 13-hour shifts and two copy editors (or sub-editors) working eight-hour shifts. The new print team has a news editor working eight hours and one copy editor working eight hours.

“But the copy editor doesn’t do the editing,” Berndt said. “Instead, that responsibility is now resting at our new role, the producers who are sitting in the core of our digital newsroom. So you save some resources, and add some resources, and you can definitely be sure that things are produced with a whole new digital mindset.”

Digitally, a focus on story length also has been beneficial. Berndt pointed out that readers online often stopped in the middle of stories because they were too long. And designers are now able to produce online-only work like illustrations and visualisations.

“I think we have created a truly digital workflow,” he said. “Especially visually, it’s been a big improvement.”

One of the requirements in the SML model is that all articles M (medium) and above need to be equipped with a fact box, which means most articles have fact boxes when they previously did not. Berndt said fact boxes are one of the best ways to add valuable information and engage readers.

Lessons learned in the process, according to Berndt:

  • This is a big cultural change, so be prepared for it.

  • Fixed article lengths can seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense.

  • Discipline, discipline, discipline.

“Respect the system, but also, you can be flexible when it’s needed,” Berndt said.

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About Amalie Nash

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