2020 Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism winner

Sophi Automation


About the Project

Canada’s national newspaper has a secret: The Globe and Mail’s digital properties are powered by an artificial intelligence engine called Sophi that autonomously curates 99 per cent of our content. The result has been a dramatic improvement in our business and a chance to free up our valuable journalists to undertake ambitious journalism.

Sophi understands how much a story contributes to subscriber retention, subscriber acquisition, registration potential and advertising dollars – looking beyond just page views, thus avoiding simply viral content.

Every 10 minutes, Sophi examines all our content; at every place each story is being promoted; and at all the ways our audience values that content. It finds valuable stories that merit greater promotion and updates every page of our website accordingly.

It is worth noting that over the past year, no reader has complained or asked if a computer was running the site.

Sophi works because it is an AI engine that has been trained by our editors to understand what is relevant to each page (eg, the homepage vs the business section page) as well as which articles are not appropriate (see slide 7 in attachment). This was extremely important to us because we value the trust that our readers place in us, and we take seriously our mission to build a better Canada.

Our editors have also set the parameters for the mix of articles on each webpage (such as how old an article can be, which sections to draw how many articles from, etc.).

In addition, Sophi’s smart facial-recognition technology ensures that faces featured on parts of the homepage reflect the diversity of voices in Canada.

We had to build a system that our newsroom could easily grasp so that they would train and trust the algorithm. Sophi was built in close collaboration with our newsroom, which tested it and provided constant feedback on it through a Slack channel and regular meetings.

The newsroom still works with a version of Sophi as a decision-support analytics tool, because editors still curate the top three story packages on our home page and business page. They also have the capability to override autonomous decisions that Sophi makes.

Our Editor in Chief, David Walmsley, believes the newsroom of the future is one where journalists can focus on finding and telling great stories – something that the machine can’t do. This is why he asked our data scientists to automate the webpages, slowly and carefully testing the results before gradually implementing it across practically the entire site.

Acceptance Speech