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The Washington Post experiments with automated storytelling to help power 2016 Rio Olympics coverage

A look at how the Twitter updates will appear, using 2012 Olympics data.

Advanced technology will auto-populate events schedule, results, medal tallies and more
Will also be used in The Post’s coverage of the U.S. election

The Washington Post will leverage artificial intelligence technology to report key information from the 2016 Rio Olympics, including results of medal events. “Heliograf,” which was developed in-house, automatically generates short multi-sentence updates for readers. These updates will appear in The Post’s live blog, on Twitter at @WPOlympicsbot, and are accessible via The Post’s Olympics skill on Alexa-enabled devices and The Post’s bot for Messenger.

“Automated storytelling has the potential to transform The Post’s coverage. More stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience,” said Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post. “The Olympics are the perfect way to prove the potential of this technology. In 2014, the sports staff spent countless hours manually publishing event results. Heliograf will free up Post reporters and editors to add analysis, color from the scene and real insight to stories in ways only they can.”

This is the initial iteration of Heliograf, which will continue to be developed by Post engineers to enhance storytelling for large-scale, data-driven coverage of major news events, including the U.S. election. This technology will also be able to process a combination of different data sources, like crime and real estate numbers, customize stories depending on individual user actions, and help look for anomalies in data to alert journalists to a potential story.

“Launching Heliograf is a natural next step for The Post’s use of machine learning,” said Sam Han, engineering director of data science at The Post. “The next challenge is to broaden the subjects covered, deepen the kind of analysis possible and identify potential stories for our newsroom.”

For the Olympics, Heliograf will automatically generate short, multi-sentence updates, provide readers with a daily schedule of events, results for medal events, top medal tallies, and alerts 15 minutes before the start of a medal event. An example of how readers can ask Alexa for updates is: “Alexa, ask WaPo Olympics how many medals the U.S. has won.”

Heliograf is part of a suite of artificial intelligence tools which will be available through The Post’s publishing platform Arc.

About The Washington Post’s Arc Publishing
Arc Publishing ( is a state-of-the-art digital platform and suite of tools that’s engineered to meet the needs of modern publishers. Built by engineers and designers at The Washington Post, Arc is made up of flexible, sophisticated tools that work seamlessly together and can function individually. Arc spans the range of technology needs for digital publishers, including video, mobile web and apps, syndication to distributed platforms, automatic content testing, data mining and innovative monetization tools. At its core, Arc is about speed: for readers, the newsroom, advertisers and developers.