WordPress, Google team on new CMS and monetization for local news publishers

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This morning, WordPress parent Automattic and Google announced Newspack. The new content management system (CMS) is “an advanced open-source publishing and revenue-generating platform for news organizations.” It’s targeted specifically to smaller, local news publishers that have struggled with traffic and revenue and don’t have lots of technology resources.

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).

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Automattic President Kinsey Wilson said, “We plan to provide out-of-the-box integrations with ad systems and various subscription and membership systems, including News Revenue Hub. The first phase of the effort will be to canvass the industry and understand what tools should be built in from the start.”

Latest Google effort to support local news. Newspack is the latest in a series of initiatives that Google has spearheaded to help newspapers and journalism. Roughly a year ago, Google announced the Google News Initiative, a set of efforts intended to:

  • Elevate and strengthen quality journalism.
  • Evolve business models to drive sustainable growth.
  • Empower news organizations through technological innovation.

Facebook has also sought to feature local news and support news publishers.

Why you should care. Local newspapers were one of the original local marketing channels. They’ve been eclipsed by big tech platforms over the past couple of decades, as they struggled to keep up with changing consumer behaviors. After being criticized for years as a destroyer of traditional news media, Google began pouring money and resources into supporting the industry.

Google’s efforts might be called “enlightened self-interest” on two levels. The first is that Google search results benefit from better and more news content, including local news. The second is that Google becomes a main supplier of ads to these local publishers, which also represent a very brand-safe environment for ads compared with many others.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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