Our Early Review of the Newspack Project from Automattic

Here at PublishPress, we’re very focused on the publishing experience in WordPress.

In recent weeks, there’s been very interesting news for WordPress publishers with the launch of Newspack.

Newspack is a project from Automattic (the owners of WordPress.com, but not WordPress.org) that aims to help small newspapers run their sites on WordPress.

Here’s the official description of 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.

Automattic are very open about the fact that this is a work in-progress:

We don’t pretend to know what’s best for journalists. We want the experts to be our partners in designing Newspack.

To that end, Automattic are working closely with over a dozen newspapers. The first newspaper recently went live using Newspack and the second site has recently gone live as well.

Newspack is available as a hosted service costing $1000 per month.

Newspack is also freely available on Github. There are three repositories:

I decided to download and test Newspack. I was curious to see how Newspack works and what features it currently offers. Please note that Newspack is clearly marked as “Alpha” and will probably see a lot of changes in the next few months.

Update: a couple of weeks after this review went live, I filmed a video into with Steve from the Newspack team. It has extra info on the Newspack project.


Getting Started with Newspack

Although there are multiple repos, I recommend downloading and installing the Newspack Plugin. From that starting point, Newspack will prompt you to install everything else.

This is what the main “Plugins” screen looks like with Newspack installed. There are a few active plugins and many more plugin suggestions. Newspack suggests you install more plugins like these:

  • AMP
  • Constant Contact Forms
  • Coral Project
  • Disqus for WordPress
  • Mailchimp for WooCommerce
  • Publish to Apple News
Newspack plugins screen

Whereas some of these plugins are recommended, Newspack has several plugins that are absolutely required. This message lists the seven required plugins:

Newspack required plugins

Here are those seven plugins. You can think of these as the core of the Newspack experience. For example, Newspack is entirely designed for Gutenberg rather than the Classic Editor.

  • Jetpack
  • AMP
  • PWA
  • Gutenberg
  • Yoast SEO
  • Google Site Kit
  • Newspack Blocks

Because AMP and Google Site Kit are in this list, I should mention that Google is one of the sponsors of Newspack. But I suspect that these plugins would have been highly requested anyway. And Newspack does also contain Facebook and Apple integration.

Newspack has a WooCommerce-style setup wizard. The first page will automatically install many more plugins, plus the Newspack theme.

Newspack plugin setup

Later on in the set-up wizard, Newspack will ask you questions about your newsroom:

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Newspack will also offer to install sample data for you:

Newspack set-up wizard starter content

Newspack in Action

If you’ve installed all the required plugins, themes and starter content, this image show what Newspack looks like.

Newspack theme with starter content

This homepage is built using the Newspack blocks:

Newspack blocks

The “Newspack Homepage Articles” is a very nicely designed block that should allow even non-technical users to customize their newspaper homepage:

Newspack homepage blocks

This video shows the homepage block in action:

There are also ways for publishers to make money. Newspack ships with several advertising plugins. Thanks to WooCommerce, publishers can also collect money directly from readers. Here’s a video from the Newspack team that shows how to take reader donations:

Here’s a video that shows the advertising features in Newspack:


Newspack Summary

If you download Newspack from Github, you’ll find a curated set of plugins plus a theme designed for newspapers.

However, I’d recommend thinking beyond the code. The Newspack project offers all this to newsrooms:

  • A series of best practices for newspapers, expressed through those carefully hosted plugins.
  • A hosted service from WordPress.com.
  • Support from a team at Automattic that’s 100% focused on optimizing the experience and listening to journalist’s feedback.
  • Out-of-the-box eCommerce options.

If I was running a small newsroom, I would absolutely consider Newspack. $1,000 per month? That’s the cost of just a few hours help from a good developer.

Getting more newspapers on WordPress is a commendable goal. Many newspapers don’t have the time or resources to have their own internal IT department or to spend a lot of money on outsourcing. That’s not even counting the costs of hosting, plugin licenses, security and everything else that’s needed to run a large and busy site.

I suspect we’ll find that Newspack is a solution that solves a real problem for WordPress publishers.

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