The rise of digital media has decimated print and local journalism. Newspapers have had to dramatically cut staff and the amount of money spent on local coverage has declined. The internet should be an avenue for local writers to distribute their content but that's harder than it sounds. In practice, it can be difficult to generate enough revenue from blogs and online publication to justify the effort. Google and WordPress have recently announced a partnership that will create a news publishing platform that can help online and local journalists.

Google and WordPress are working together to create a platform called Newspack, "a fast, secure, low-cost publishing system tailor-made to the needs of small newsrooms". Besides Google and WordPress, other organizations donated to the project or helped in other ways. Other funders include the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Civil Media collectively contributing another $1 million.

This Google Outreach Initiative should make it easier for smaller news organizations to make a strong impact online. In essence, it will be a streamlined version of WordPress. Everything is already configured in the most effective way for online journalism. It will have many useful features built-in, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Fortunately, Newspack users will have access to all of the plugins that can be used on WordPress. That said, the goal of the initiative is to reduce the amount of time journalist spend messing with the site, so they can devote more time and resources to their content.

As Google described it, "It is trying to help small publishers succeed by building best practices into the product while removing distractions that may divert scarce resources. We like to call it "an opinionated CMS:" it knows the right thing to do, even when you don't."

To ensure that Newspack is useful at helping news organizations reach their goal, there is a plan in place to provide feedback and metrics that can let publishers know how they are doing. Automattic, the company behind WordPress, will be "partnering with Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub to pinpoint the features and capabilities that contribute to publisher success and create metrics that measure the business impact of those features".

Newspack won't be officially available for several more months, with a global rollout planned for later this year. However,if anyone who finds this prospect too tantalizing to wait for, there is a brief window to sign up for the early access to Newspack. Small and medium sized digital news organization can apply to become charter members of the program. The deadline is February 1, so there's little time to waste. It's expected the launch will happen in July or later, so early access if the best choice for people who want Newspack now.  

It will be awhile before it's known whether or not Newspack is effective at reducing costs and increasing revenue for small and medium sized news organization. There are a lot of power players who seem to be putting in a lot of effort to make the platform succeed. However, as the upcoming closure of Google+ reminds us, not everything Google touches is golden. The ideas behind Newspack are sound and worth exploring, but it's unlikely to be a panacea for all the troubles facing local journalism.

For more news about upcoming partnerships at Google, read this article on the recently announced advertising deal between Google and Disney.

Published on: Jan 21, 2019
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