What is Newspack?

It’s a ready-to-go, intuitive, revenue-focused publishing platform that will let small and medium-sized newsrooms dedicate more resources to their journalism. Newspack will be simple to set up, easy to use, durable, flexible and fast.

So it’s a new content-management system?

No, Newspack is being developed on WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS. Newspack will be a plugin that selects, streamlines and simplifies the use of other plugins best suited to newsroom needs. It’s the maestro that will arrange and conduct an orchestra of plugins. And it eliminates most of publishers’ technology headaches and overhead.

Which plugins?

Our research with publishers so far has given us the “what” but not yet the “how.” Generally, we expect Newspack to support:

  • mobile delivery,
  • search engine optimization
  • advertising delivery and management
  • feed ingestion
  • headline optimization
  • A/B testing
  • subscription and membership services
  • email marketing services
  • lead acquisition tools
  • advanced analytics
  • social-media and newsletter integration
  • subscription services
  • and features like AMP and PWA.

How are you going to find the right plugins?

We don’t pretend to know what’s best for journalists. We want the experts to be our partners in designing Newspack. In April, we chose 12 charter newsrooms to work alongside of us. We also surveyed hundreds of small and medium-sized online publishers to get their input. If you’re a publisher or newsroom leader, we welcome your input here.

How will you evaluate the plugins and other features?

With a tight focus, confidence and a bit of an attitude. Our newsroom partners will help determine the best tool for each job. We’ll sift through everything the open-source WordPress community has to offer so you don’t have to. We’ll keep a constantly evolving, highly curated catalog of plugins, adding when we find new gems and culling the list when others get outdated.

The beauty of an open-source platform such as WordPress is that developers are constantly innovating. But until now, finding, vetting and installing the latest plugins — with confidence that they won’t break what you’ve built — has been a challenge for smaller newsrooms.

That makes sense. What are some of the areas you’re focusing on?

  • For publishing, newsrooms will be able to change the layout of their pages and presentations on the fly. No more being locked into only what a theme offers. Workflows will be streamlined and integrated with social media and newsletters.
  • For revenue development, we’ll find features that smoothly take readers through an audience-acquisition funnel to become subscribers or members. We’ll make it easy to create an online store. Accepting payments and donations will be a breeze.
  • For audience engagement, we’ll use the best tools that ensure your readers can be part of a newsroom’s operations including story inception, sourcing, reporting, post-publication comments and planning for live events.

Sounds great. What will it cost?

The Newspack service on WordPress.com will be $1,000 a month for newsrooms with gross revenue under $500,000 a year, and $2,000 a month for those above that mark.

What does a newsroom get for that?

In short, a foundation for sustainable journalism. The service will include:

  • hosting
  • support
  • security
  • backups
  • automatic updates
  • high-speed video and image delivery
  • continuing research into best practices in revenue development and journalism
  • exclusive benchmarking against your peers
  • a connection to Newspack developers  
  • membership in a growing community of local publishers.

Sounds reasonable.

For the newsrooms in the middle of the lower tier, it’s less than 5 percent of their annual gross revenue. For every newsroom in the second tier, it’s less than 5 percent.

Will Newspack be open source?

Yes. WordPress.com is committed to its role in the open-source community. Newspack is no exception, and the plugin will be portable.  

Aren’t some newsrooms getting Newspack at no cost?

Newspack is grant funded for the first year of operation. Sites that join in that period — both the initial 12 charter sites and the subsequent 50 or so that will be onboarded in the fall — won’t pay anything until March 2020. This recognizes the time, effort and expertise they’re contributing toward the development of Newspack.

How are you choosing the newsrooms for the second phase? And when?

If a publisher applied in the first round, there’s no need to do anything to remain in consideration for the second. For those who didn’t already apply, we expect to release a new application in late summer. Signup for the Newspack newsletter to be kept up to date on that.

Won’t this just create a cookie-cutter news site?

Only under the hood, where it’s important. One of the key principles of Newspack is that smaller publishers have many common needs. Each of them shouldn’t spend their time researching, choosing, installing, maintaining and updating something so essential to their business. Newspack will do that for them. A site’s appearance can be changed easily, and sites will have a lot of discretion over what features they load. All this can be done without having to engage a developer.

Perfect. Where’s the sign-up page?

Sorry, but Newspack is still being developed and won’t be widely available until March of 2020. Publishers can apply to be part of the second phase of the pilot program when applications open in late summer. Sign up here for the Newspack newsletter to be kept up to date.

OK. Now talk nerdy to me. How Newspack is being developed?

All development will take place in public Github repositories.The community is welcome to submit issues, feature requests, and code-level changes. There are two repos — one for the plugin and one for the theme.

How will the plugin options work?

The most common and critical will be loaded by default when publishers create up or migrate their sites. Others will be offered to publishers during setup, depending on their preferences, such as whether they need advertising management tools. Other vetted and approved options will be listed in a directory. As part of their support for Newpack, Google, Civil and Automattic will ensure that services used by news organizations are available through Newspack.

What are the elements of Newspack?

Newspack will consist of a modular plugin, a theme, and a managed hosting offering.

Say a bit more about the plugin.

The plugin manages a range of journalism-focused functionality. Some features will be provided natively, and some will integrate third-party products. The plugin will manage the installation of outside plugins. A key pillar of Newspack will be a fast, distraction-free onboarding experience, focused tightly on the needs of journalism.

And the theme?

The Newspack theme will be based on the latest Gutenberg-era WordPress thinking, in line with the vision laid out here: one theme, many styles, blocks and templates. Newspack will not be about offering an unnecessary variety of themes. It will zero in on the precise visual needs of a newsroom, but still let publishers customize their site with a distinct look and layout.

How will Newspack be hosted?

WordPress.com will be offering and promoting a hosted solution in March 2020 (right now it’s part of our pilot program).

As an open-source project, Newspack is also available to be downloaded and installed everywhere under the GPL v2.

How does Newspack interact with Gutenberg?

As a new product in the post-Gutenberg-launch era, Newspack has the luxury to be a textbook application of Gutenberg concepts without significant backwards compatibility concerns. We hope to implement a modern hierarchy of blocks/themes/styles/templates, leveraging some of the most exciting work in the WordPress community, which will only grow more refined and powerful over time.

Will custom plugin and theme installation be supported in service offered by WordPress.com?

Yes. Automattic’s Newspack hosting will live on Atomic architecture, which allows for installation of custom themes and plugins, within reason. We aspire to make Newspack a comprehensive solution in which you won’t need to do this much, but the option exists if you so choose.

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