By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
The Globe and Mail’s digital presence is getting an overhaul, courtesy of the Washington Post.
On June 1, Phillip Crawley, publisher of the Globe and Mail, announced a partnership with the Post to implement the Post’s Arc Publishing system. Built with newspaper publishers in mind, Arc will be fully implemented over the course of a year, with some features rolling out in about six months. The Globe and Mail is the largest North American media outlet to partner with the Post so far.
“This partnership reflects the future of publishing – one that harnesses technology and analytics to enable audience-focused storytelling based on data science,” said Crawley in a press release.
“What we are pretty convinced of, after seeing what the Post has been able to do with their platform, is this thing allows you to be fast and nimble and efficient from both the journalist’s perspective as well as the technologist’s perspectives,” Greg Doufas, the chief digital officer at the Globe and Mail told J-Source.
But what will change at the Globe and Mail as the new system is rolled out?
The partnership brings the Globe closer to the Post—and Amazon
Arc Publishing was developed out of necessity about five years ago, according to Shailesh Prakash, the chief technology officer at the Washington Post.
Both engineers and journalists at the Washington Post tired of the constant customization and modification necessary for their patchwork CMS system, which included eight to nine more programs on top of a CMS that was really optimized for print production, not digital.
To regain better control over the reader experience on the site, staff at the Post asked for in-house solutions for posting content. Engineers began the process of taking the most obvious parts of their CMS and re-writing it on their own (According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos also had a hand in its creation).
“The focus shifts from babysitting systems and managing systems to actually creating and building systems,” said Prakash.
Arc Publishing is the sum of those parts, and now is a big component of the Post’s future. Prakash told the Wall Street Journal in June that he thinks Arc Publishing subscriptions could generate $100 million in revenue a year. The company has already signed 11 commercial clients, including the Alaska Dispatch News and the Tampa Bay Times, along with eight universities that are getting to run Arc Publishing for free. All the clients’ data and systems are stored on the Amazon Cloud.
Subscription plans run from $10,000 a month to $150,000 for a fully customized package. Prakash would not disclose how much the Globe was paying per month for its subscription.
However, Prakash said that the deal with the Globe is truly a partnership in that both parties will be working on product development. “We will learn from them and they will learn from us and, in the end, our readers and advertisers will benefit,” he said.
Some of that learning process will include whether the Globe will use the Washington Post’s artificial intelligence layer, Clavis. The AI is a much lauded system developed by the Post to highly customize its content. Every time a story is posted, for instance, Clavis searches through a large taxonomy for various tags to be attached to articles. Prakash gives the example of a story about Donald Trump—Clavis will tag the obvious words, like politics, but will also search for other connecting topics deeper in the taxonomy.
Doufas they are not yet sure if they will use Clavis as staff at the Globe are happy with their current recommendation engine. But Doufas added that they do want to work with the Post to share some of their methodology in that area.
Will it make a difference to how journalists do their job?
What both Prakash and Doufas believes makes Arc Publishing unique is that it was made specifically for journalists, by engineers who are deeply embedded in the Washington Post’s newsroom. “It’s a system built for purpose by engineers for journalists, and sort of built from the ground up to satisfy all of those needs in a pretty dynamic way,” said Doufas.
From a technologist’s perspective this all sounds great, but it does beg one question: how does the change the day-to-day work for editors and reporters who will actually have to use the publishing system?
As an example, Doufas said the system’s library of interactive tools such as maps will make it easier for reporters to create and share stories in a unique way. “What’s great about the platform is that it is modular,” said Doufas. “As a journalist it feels like you are ordering off a menu and able to use these different pieces in a really easy way.”
Doufas said that the system marries strong technology with journalistic prowess. “One needs to do justice for the other,” he added.