Many smaller news startups would struggle with the complexities of technology selection, development, maintenance, hosting, and security, which in turn can be an obstacle to effective revenue generation. That’s why Automattic, the creator of WordPress.com, now teams with Google, Lenfest, Civil, and Knight to develop an open source publishing platform for digital news startups: Newspack by WordPress.com.
There is currently no common, cost-effective solution that allows “best-in-class” tools to be easily shared among different news concerns, according to Automattic. Newspack by WordPress.com, as the platform will be known, is designed to address those issues. The goal is to help small digital publishers get onto the platform quickly and provide them with an affordable system that incorporates the best editorial and business practices from across the industry.
Newspack by WordPress.com is designed to address some of the persistent obstacles to creating economically sustainable models for journalism, particularly at the local level. The founding partners have planned to launch a “robust” proof of concept with up to a dozen news sites by mid-2019 and then expand to supporting up to 60 sites by early 2020.
Local News Organizations, Funding
“Local news organizations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism – a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” said Kinsey Wilson, President of WordPress.com and a former senior executive at NPR and The New York Times. “We’re joining with industry leaders to bring technology, publishing and business expertise together in a single platform that can be shared by news organizations across the globe.”
Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com, and its partners Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub, have secured $2.4 million in funding for the first year of the project, which will be developed on WordPress.com’s cloud-based platform and incorporate many of the best practices in digital publishing. Google, through the Google News Initiative, is taking the lead in backing the project and has committed $1.2 million.
“Local newsrooms face many obvious challenges, but we do see new examples of success,” said Jim Albrecht, director of news ecosystem products at Google. “Unfortunately, the innovation in technology, editorial focus, and monetization necessary to achieve this success lies beyond the reach of many small organizations. By funding Newspack, we hope to extend the best practices of these market leaders to local publishers generally.”
Other funders include The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which is contributing $400,000; ConsenSys, the venture studio backing Civil Media, which is contributing $350,000; and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is contributing $250,000. An additional $200,000 from a fifth source is expected to be contributed toward the project later this month.
In addition to Automattic, partners in the project include Spirited Media, which operates local digital news sites in Denver, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and whose founder, Jim Brady, has led large digital news operations including Washingtonpost.com; and Mary Walter-Brown, CEO of News Revenue Hub, a spinoff of Voice of San Diego, which provides revenue solutions for digital publishers.
The Lenfest Institute for Journalism will be fiscal sponsor for the project, managing the grant funding process and reporting broadly in the public interest on the progress and results of the project. Lenfest will also provide guidance and expertise on the business needs of local newsrooms and the selection of beta sites for initial deployment.
ConsenSys, one of the world’s largest blockchain organizations, will be a financial sponsor for the project. The new publishing platform will include a native plugin for Civil, a ConsenSys formation. This would allow any interested newsroom using the platform to easily join Civil’s community-owned and operated journalism network and/or permanently archive content in decentralized, tamper-proof storage environments.
News organizations interested in being part of the pilot launch can go to newspack.blog to learn more.