New Delhi:While local media might not get as much coverage as the national press, it serves an equally important role in society. That’s why the decline of local newsrooms in the U.S. has been a troublesome trend in recent years. The Google News Initiative is now partnering with WordPress to invest $1.2 million in creating a “fast, secure, low-cost publishing system tailor-made to the needs of small newsrooms” called Newspack.
Consortium of industry supporters. Google says that the primary objective of Newspack is to “help small publishers succeed by building best practices into the product while removing distractions that may divert scarce resources.” In addition to Google and Automattic, project funders include Lenfest, ConsenSys and the Knight Foundation.
Automattic is inviting publishers to apply to be initial testers of the platform and provide feedback. The company offers a form at the end of its blog post and says applications are due by February 1. There will be no charge for use of the platform through January 2020. Thereafter it will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per month.
Automattic also says that in the initial rollout phase “sites that are principally designed for audio or video news reporting will not be supported.”
Seeking a sustainable business model. Another challenge the program is seeking to address is the optimal business model for local news (some combination of ads and subscriptions). Google says Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub will be working to try and help solve the business model challenge. Collectively they’ll be trying to “better understand the features and capabilities that contribute to publisher success and to measure the business impact of those features.” Google says it’s also going to provide technical support on the integration of Google products (read: ads).
WordPress needs little introduction — it is now thought to power at least 30 percent of the web, though this includes both the non-hosted open source blogging software available through WordPress.org and the for-profit hosted WordPress.com platform.
WordPress in its various forms is already used by many major publications, in addition to millions of sites run by individuals and local publishers, but with Newspack, Automattic is targeting smaller news outlets that may “struggle with the complexities of technology selection, development, maintenance, hosting, and security,” according to a press release. Indeed, throw all these obstacles together, and it becomes just that bit more difficult to create a solid and sustainable business.
“Local news organizations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism — a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” noted WordPress.com president Kinsey Wilson. “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.”
The Newspack platform itself is still very much in pilot mode, and it’s not expected to launch — even as a beta proof-of-concept product — until July 2019, when it will be used by around a dozen websites. But from now until February 1, applications are being accepted from a wide range of publications, spanning audiences, geographies, and models. Automattic said it will prioritize outlets that have previously demonstrated “editorial and financial success” in their respective markets, though fledgling news startups will also be considered if they have a “strong launch plan.”