The Unsung Hero of Indie Journalism

Since its arrival in 2019, Automattic's Newspack hasn't attracted much attention within the WordPress community, despite a decent amount of coverage by WP Tavern and some from Post Status. It's been largely unreported on beyond its role as a flashpoint in the recent Twitter drama between Matt Mullenweg and GoDaddy. Even after Matt's explanation in Post Status Slack, few people are likely to understand Newspack is an unsung hero of indie journalism.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Today in Washington Monthy, Dan Froomkin writes about Jeff Bezos' growing monopoly on the American press. Froomkin focuses on the key role Bezos' best-in-class CMS and advertising platform play, and he makes a case for Bezos to release it as open source. Froomkin also brings up Automattic's Newspack — which is used by Washington Monthly. He describes it as a possible alternative but notes it's a “work in progress,” perhaps not realizing this is what open source has in common with democracies.

The work is never done.

Newspack is more than code. It is bringing a community of disparate news organizations into a collective model that, in theory, can lead to more revenue for small publications that cannot compete with giant news conglomerates.

My agency, Decubing, recently asked the owners of journals we respect how we can help them most. Their answer: “give cash.”

Newspack, in other words, can become the collective bargaining chip for independent perspectives like The Lens, a source for investigative journalism that informs how I vote in local elections in New Orleans.

Some may say that WordPress already supports free speech as a blogging platform. That is a limited perspective.

News journals act differently than most blogs. Journals organize around editorial policies that often require a plurality of perspectives. A journal's staff is also devoted to maximizing the impact of every article.

Unfortunately, most independent journals are cash-strapped.

Perhaps we can reduce publishers’ tech budgets more by contributing to the Newspack plugin? Perhaps a community-run Newspack will free Automattic to focus on the aspects of Newspack that bring revenue to independent journals?

My agency, Decubing, recently asked the owners of journals we respect how we can help them most. Their answer: “give cash.”

Decubing launched an initiative to donate 11% of our revenue to organizations that support independent journalism, but cash does not always come in dollar bills.

My team at Decubing also saves publishers money by using Newspack’s blocks, themes, and best practices instead of building costly bespoke tools.

Perhaps we can reduce publishers’ tech budgets more by contributing to the Newspack plugin? Perhaps a community-run Newspack will free Automattic to focus on the aspects of Newspack that bring revenue to independent journals?

“Newspack is a much more fragile project than WP, and it's run as a no-profit for benefit of ailing newspapers. If people take its code and resell it without sharing any revenue back, it probably goes away. If people resell and revshare I think it'll be fine.”

Matt Mullenweg, Post Status Slack (June 24, 2022)

John Peter Zenger, an early advocate for free speech and a free press is remembered for saying, “the loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press.”

Whether we give cash or donate brainpower, we must constantly support independent media to keep robust public squares, in small towns and big cities. The free flow of information and ideas is vital to any democratic republic. I do hope Newspack receives the credit it deserves for helping independent journals thrive and that the WordPress community will help support its development.

Blake Bertucelli

Blake Bertucelli is simplifying website management with Edupack, while building the world’s first accessibility platform, equalify.app, and supporting independent journalism with Decubing Web Services.

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