Featured WordPress Publisher: Mountain State Spotlight

Mss

Welcome to another post in this series which focuses on the very best publishers using WordPress.

We're not always looking for household brand names. We're also searching for publishers who are building new, brave and innovative platforms. That description perfectly describes MountainStateSpotlight.org which publishes news for West Virginia.


The origins of Mountain State Spotlight

The story behind Mountain State Spotlight (MSS) is probably familiar to many of you. The site's founders were editors and reporters for “The Charleston Gazette-Mail”.

Charleston is the capital of West Virginia and had two newspapers for most of the 20th century: the “Gazette” and the “Daily Mail”. I won't rehash all the problems suffered by both newspapers, but Wikipedia has a good overview. By 2019, the two newspapers had combined, but still found themselves in and out of bankruptcy court.

Greg Moore, Ken Ward Jr. and Eric Eyre decided that West Virginia deserved better and launched the new site with this goal:

Our mission is to help West Virginians improve their state by producing “sustained outrage” journalism that exposes abuses of power by government, business and other institutions.

The name comes from West Virginia's nickname, “The Mountain State”.

Thanks to the Newspack project from Automattic, they were able to get a new WordPress site off the ground in a matter of months. Here's the Newspack announcement about the launch.

Mountain State
Mountain State

How the site is financed

To get off the ground, the site has financial support from these organizations:

  • American Journalism Project: $125,000.
  • ProPublica: “Financial and business support”.
  • Report for America: They placed four reporters in the MSS newsroom.

They're also taking donations from supporters.

Longer term, the site is aiming for 501(c)(3) status.


Creative Commons license

One thing about MSS that's particularly interesting for WordPress users is their open-source approach.

Just like The 19th – which we featured recently – all the MSS stories can be republished for free under a Creative Commons license.

There's a very practical reason for this, according to an interview with Nieman Lab:

[One of many] longstanding problems? The high percentage of West Virginians living without reliable internet … We have to find ways to reach those audiences. One of those ways is partnering with local daily and weekly newspapers across the state, who will be able to publish Mountain State Spotlight stories for free. 


Technical details of the site

You can click here to read our technical overview of Newspack. The Newspack team are not focused on creating over-elaborate sites. They build clean and fast sites that are optimized for reading and social sharing.

The content is written in the Gutenberg which is great fit for stories which are heavy on text and images like this one.

Thanks to the official AMP plugin, this site makes heavy use of Google's CDN available through the AMP project. Most key files are served from https://cdn.ampproject.org.

Amp Plugin
Amp Plugin

Summary

The story of Mountain State Spotlight is a great example of how WordPress can help fill a publishing void as older newspapers continue to struggle.

Within a few months of being laid off, the MSS team were back up-and-running at low cost and with a site that they can control.

If you're interested in innovative, mission-driven sites using WordPress, check out all our introductions:

They are not alone in using WordPress and Gutenberg for publishing. The Knight Foundation is paying 24 newsrooms to upgrade their websites and 20 choose WordPress.


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