Google partners with WordPress, creates news publishing platform

The initiative aims to empower news organisations through technological innovation

Over the past couple of decades, local media has been eclipsed by big tech platforms, as it struggled to keep up with changing consumer behaviours and emerging digital world. As a result many local newspapers with long histories have had to cut back on staff and reduce coverage. So, to solve the issue and save the local media outlets Google News initiative is now partnering with WordPress's parent company Automattic by investing $1.2 m in the development of a “fast, secure, low-cost publishing system.”

Called Newspack, the new content management system (CMS) will be targeted specifically to smaller, local news publishers worldwide that have struggled with traffic and revenue and don’t have lots of technology resources, by becoming “an advanced open-source publishing and revenue-generating platform” for them.

“Local news organisations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism - a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” noted WordPress.com President Kinsey Wilson last week when announcing the project. “So we’re joining with industry leaders to bring technology, publishing, and business expertise together in a single platform that can be shared by news organisations across the globe.”

Details about exactly what the Newspack platform will offer in the future, however, are still a little scant. What is clear for now is that Automattic will be responsible for the creation of the platform, with other funders (Lenfest Institute for Journalism, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Civil Media) contributing $1m in addition to Google’s $1.2m. Google's role, on the other hand, would be to provide technical support on the integration of Google products, optimised specifically for the publications taking part in the project and will advise on the Newspack feature set, based on feedback from local publishers.

To better help publishers succeed, Automattic and Google will also be working with Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub, whose job would be to find out the optimal business model for local news (some combination of ads and subscriptions). To solve this challenge Spirited Media and NRH will be working together to “better understand the features and capabilities that contribute to publisher success and to measure the business impact of those features.”

“Our hope with Newspack is to give [publications] a platform where they can continue to focus on what they do best, while we focus on providing world-class technology and support across their editorial and business operations,” Automattic Editor Mark Armstrong commented.

Nevertheless, 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 1 February, applications would be accepted from a wide range of publications, spanning audiences, geographies, and models. Priority will have those 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.” Then, by January 2020 the platform is expected to open to around 60 news outlets.

Until then, the publishers would be able to use the next-gen news publishing platform for free, since the prelaunch phase will be funded entirely by Automattic and its donors. Once that period expires, however, publications can expect to pay somewhere in the region of $1,000 to $2,000 each month.

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