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When I fell in love with journalism, as a young kid in the late 1970s, there was only one way to consume the news: on paper. (Well, there was television and radio news as well, but those formats didn’t appeal to me.)

Whether it was delivered to your home, or you made a trip to the newspaper box or local newsstand, the copy you read contained the same articles and images as your neighbour’s. A national paper like The Globe and Mail would produce regional editions (we still do), so that readers in Edmonton would see articles of specific local interest that were different from the articles a Toronto reader would see – but within each region, the articles, and the order in which you’d encounter them as you flipped through the paper, were the same.

Then news organizations began publishing articles online.

The Halifax Daily News (now defunct) became the first in Canada to launch a digital edition in 1994; The Globe debuted a static online edition of the paper shortly thereafter, then launched, a dynamic site that included breaking news reported by Globe journalists, in 2000. While the media were decidedly different, print and digital news lineups were curated in similar fashion. Much like the way editors selected which articles should appear on the paper’s front page, a human would choose which articles appeared on the digital homepage on any given day, and when more timely or important articles should replace them. If you were a Globe reader, you’d likely visit directly to get your news online.

That’s changed in the intervening years. By the end of March 2013, The Globe and Mail reported that Canadians were increasingly turning to online news sites for their daily updates, although “Seventy eight per cent of those who read newspaper websites reported reading printed papers, while only 11 per cent of readers only consumed news online.”

By 2019 – the year before COVID lockdowns – nearly half (44 per cent) of Canadians used “mainly online media” sources of news, compared to 56 per cent who said they got their news from print, television and radio sources, according to a survey of 2,055 randomly-selected Canadians. One-fifth of those surveyed said social media was “their main source of information” and 35 per cent used search engines, such as Google, to find news, while only 8 per cent looked directly to newspapers’ websites and apps for news most often.

A reader who follows news links from a social media site or search engine results may experience a rather different view of the day’s top stories than they would by going directly to a news website, as the algorithms of those third-party platforms “decide” what is most relevant for that reader.

At this point, you might be wondering what criteria those algorithms are using to select which links to serve in your X timeline or which articles are most relevant and hence should be listed first in your search engine results. Well, according to the international Center for News, Technology & Innovation, “the algorithmic selection process is usually opaque to news publishers and the public (who both rely on it), and the algorithmic selection results have the potential to expose the public to lower-quality news and information.”

Of course, you can control the quality of the information you read by clicking on links shared by trustworthy news organizations that you follow, and by going directly to news websites or apps.

A few readers have emailed to ask whether the use of algorithms affects the selection of news articles they see on In particular, people have wondered about the relatively new “For You” feature, accessed by clicking a tab on the far left side of the navigation bar. How are the articles selected? And does the curation on the “For You” page mean that some readers might miss out on important news stories?

For answers, I turned to Mike Pletch, The Globe’s managing director of product and UX (user experience), who oversees the website’s functionality.

He explained that subscribers can curate their own personalized selection of articles on the “For You” page. Click buttons at the bottom of article pages to follow topics and authors of interest; you’ll then be able to view the latest anytime by clicking “For You” and then “Following”. Adding stocks to your Watchlist is another way to personalize the site’s content.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of article pages, the algorithm automatically recommends articles you might be interested in based on your recent reading history, or otherwise based on the most popular stories on the site, under the subheading “More For You.”

Mike said his team is very aware of the importance of transparency to readers, and so stories the algorithm has recommended are always displayed under “For You” or “More For You” subheadings.

The team is also exploring incorporating a “Recommended For You” section in the middle of the homepage, where again the algorithm suggests articles you might be interested in based on your recent reading history. He emphasizes that all other articles on the homepage remain the same for all users at any given moment, and are updated for everyone at the same time.

A few readers asked about the curation of the Canada page and regional pages (British Columbia, Vancouver, Alberta, Prairies, Ontario, Toronto, Quebec and Atlantic). These make use of some automation tools that have been trained by Globe staff, who are continually working to improve the accuracy and relevancy of these tools, which are not used to personalize recommendations but rather to help populate the pages with regional stories for all readers.

For example, stories are auto-tagged with keywords that indicate which specific areas in Canada they are relevant to. The Canada and the regional pages pull in relevant stories based on these keywords and display them on the page.

The goal when employing these tools, Mike says, is to bring stories of interest to readers’ attention, and to make them easier to find – while ensuring that important stories are seen by all readers.

If you have further questions about the algorithms and automation tools used at The Globe, or comments about your experience on the website, don’t hesitate to email me at

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to note that The Globe and Mail launched a static website prior to the launch of in 2000.

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