Lenfest Institute teams with creators of WordPress.com, Google, Civil, and Knight to Develop a Next-Generation Publishing Platform for Digital News Startups

A group of news industry leaders is banding together to develop an advanced open-source publishing and revenue-generating platform for news organizations. The effort is designed to address some of the persistent obstacles to creating economically sustainable models for journalism, particularly at the local level.

Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com, and its partners Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub, have secured $2.4 million in funding for the first year of the project, which will be developed on WordPress.com’s cloud-based platform and incorporate many of the best practices in digital publishing.

Google, through the Google News Initiative, is taking the lead in backing the project and has committed $1.2 million. Other funders include The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which is contributing $400,000; ConsenSys, the venture studio backing Civil Media, which is contributing $350,000; and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is contributing $250,000. An additional $200,000 from a fifth source is expected to be contributed toward the project later this month.

Many smaller news startups struggle with the complexities of technology selection, development, maintenance, hosting, and security, which in turn can be an obstacle to effective revenue generation. And there is currently no common, cost-effective solution that allows best-in-class tools to be easily shared among different news concerns.

Newspack by WordPress.com, as the platform will be known, is designed to address those issues. The goal is to help small digital publishers get onto the platform quickly and provide them with an affordable system that incorporates the best editorial and business practices from across the industry. The partners will launch a robust proof of concept with up to a dozen news sites by mid-2019 and then expand to supporting up to 60 sites by early 2020.

“Local news organizations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism — a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” said Kinsey Wilson, President of WordPress.com and a former senior executive at NPR and The New York Times. “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.”

“Local newsrooms face many obvious challenges, but we do see new examples of success,” said Jim Albrecht, director of news ecosystem products at Google. “Unfortunately, the innovation in technology, editorial focus, and monetization necessary to achieve this success lies beyond the reach of many small organizations. By funding Newspack, we hope to extend the best practices of these market leaders to local publishers generally.”

News organizations interested in being part of the pilot launch can go to newspack.blog to learn more.

In addition to Automattic, partners in the project include Spirited Media, which operates local digital news sites in Denver, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and whose founder, Jim Brady, has led large digital news operations including Washingtonpost.com; and Mary Walter-Brown, CEO of News Revenue Hub, a spinoff of Voice of San Diego, which provides revenue solutions for digital publishers.

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism will be fiscal sponsor for the project, managing the grant funding process and reporting broadly in the public interest on the progress and results of the project. Lenfest will also provide guidance and expertise on the business needs of local newsrooms and the selection of beta sites for initial deployment.

ConsenSys, one of the world’s largest blockchain organizations, will be a financial sponsor for the project. The new publishing platform will include a native plugin for Civil, a ConsenSys formation. This will allow any interested newsroom using the platform to easily join Civil’s community-owned and operated journalism network and/or permanently archive content in decentralized, tamper-proof storage environments.

About WordPress.com

WordPress.com helps millions of people create websites for small business, publishing, and blogging. We host sites for some of the biggest brands and publishers in the world — including Microsoft, News Corp. and CNN — and our users publish more than 87 million new posts every month. WordPress.com is a product of Automattic, Inc., a fully distributed company with more than 800 employees working from 69 countries. For more, visit automattic.com.

About the Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative (GNI), is Google’s effort to help journalism thrive in the digital age and signifies a major milestone in the company’s 15-year commitment to the news industry. The GNI brings together everything we do in collaboration with the industry—across products, partnerships, and programs—to help build a stronger future for news. The GNI will fuel these efforts with a $300m commitment focused on three objectives: elevate and strengthen quality journalism; evolve business models to drive sustainable growth; and empower news organizations through technological innovation.

About Spirited Media

Spirited Media is reimagining local news in Philadelphia (Billy Penn), Pittsburgh (The Incline) and Denver (Denverite). Founded in 2014 by veterans of the Washington Post, AOL, DIgital First Media, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the company has attracted funding from Gannett, the founders of Business Insider, and Patch. Its newsrooms, which run on WordPress, are monetized primarily through membership and events, and its executives regularly consult for leading media companies on audience-first digital initiatives.

About News Revenue Hub

The News Revenue Hub helps news organizations build the trust and financial support of their audiences by providing customized technology tools and proven strategies to create and sustain successful digital membership programs. For more, visit fundjournalism.org.

About The Lenfest Institute for Journalism

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a nonprofit organization devoted to sustaining and advancing local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest when he gifted both an endowment and sole ownership of the Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com) to the Institute. These news properties serve as a live lab for the Institute’s investments in innovative news initiatives, new technology and sustainable business models for local news in Philadelphia and across the country. For more, visit www.lenfestinstitute.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

About Civil
Civil is a platform for publishing, discovering, and supporting good journalism. It’s owned and operated by a global community of independent newsrooms and those who support them. Civil’s uniquely designed system allows journalists to directly capture more of the value they create and to permanently archive their content in a tamper-proof environment. Additionally, it brings together a community of independent newsrooms from around the world, and encourages greater collaboration and knowledge exchange between them. More than 125 journalists representing 18 independent newsrooms, from upstate New York to Singapore, are already part of the Civil community. Civil is funded by and a close partner with ConsenSys. To learn more, including how to join Civil’s community, visit www.civil.co.

Local News Solutions

The Lenfest Institute provides free tools and resources for local journalism leaders to develop sustainable strategies to serve their communities.

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