Newspack, a project funded by the Google News initiative and WordPress.com, has published a showcase of 60 news sites running on the platform. WordPress.com announced its plans to build the Newspack CMS two years ago and successfully signed on more than 50 sites in the first year. The cloud-based platform is open source and highly customized to generate revenue for small to medium-sized publications.
Early adopters include the Austin Weekly News, Mississippi Today, Hong Kong Free Press, Oklahoma Watch, Bangor Daily News, The Oaklandside, and many other watchdog publications serving their communities with vital local news coverage.
The showcase was created using the Raindrop bookmark manager, which allows viewers to search for a specific site and see all the various homepages at a glance. The diversity of the publications is striking, but clicking through to their websites it’s clear that most of them share an intimate connection with their communities that might otherwise have evaporated in the post-print news era.
Newspack stands out as an affordable, open source alternative to proprietary systems. Publishers generally pay $500-$2,000/month using a sliding scale based on their annual revenue. The tools they are given are open and designed to help create economically sustainable journalism. It’s not surprising that a community has sprung up around the product, as small publishers share many of the same issues. A dedicated Slack workspace. facilitates conversation and collaboration for more than 150 editors, designers, product and business people who are all using the same building blocks to run their publications.
In 2020, thirteen Newspack publications were awarded a total of more than $1 million in grants from the Facebook Journalism Program’s relief effort for local news due to Covid-19. Publishing online at a low cost on WordPress has helped many of these publications weather the pandemic, instead of being forced to consolidate or shutter.
In May, 2020, analysts from News Revenue Hub published a study examining how Newspack-powered newsrooms are interacting with WordPress. A few key findings showed that Newspack users may require more assistance in managing their sites, which leverage the block editor and come with more than 50 pre-configured plugins:
The role of Newspack in reducing or replacing the need for website management-related technical resources is unclear, and depends greatly on an individual newsroom’s technical knowledge and resources.
Potential improvements going forward should focus on providing deeper, more standardized education and documentation to broad groups of users.
The report concluded that “Newspack has established itself as a valuable tool for newsrooms, as well as a valuable method for building sites collaboratively,” but warns that the project may face challenges in scaling the hands-on support that pilot newsrooms received in the early stages. More revenue-generating features are still being developed but overall participating newsrooms had a high rate of satisfaction with the platform.