A WordPress-Powered Publisher Describes Their First Year as a Non-Profit

Vince Dice is the editor of Gig Harbor Now, a nonprofit news organization in Gig Harbor, near Seattle.

His publication is celebrating it’s first birthday this week and he has interesting story to tell, that sums up many trends with local news in 2022.

For many years, Vince was connected to a newspaper called “Gig Harbor Life”, but things changed. This is from Vince’s launch post:

Gig Harbor Life was owned by the Kitsap Sun and was distributed — free — to thousands of mailboxes and dozens of drop points. When the Sun was purchased by Gannett, which was, in turn, bought by a hedge fund, Gig Harbor Life was discontinued and our town lost its “voice.” … It hurt. A lot. And it hurt our readers, too. Hundreds wrote to the publisher of the Sun, asking him to reconsider. But it was a done deal. The last edition of Gig Harbor Life was published in May 2018.

It took time, but over the next couple of years, the local Gig Harbor community worked towards replacing what they had lost:

They formed a board of directors, decided that becoming a community-based nonprofit news organization was the best business model for Gig Harbor Now, wrote up bylaws and articles of incorporation, and incorporated as a nonprofit business.

The new site does not have advertising. The non-profit is funded by donors and has a clear editorial independence policy, taken from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Vince has posted a summary of the newspaper’s first year. The new “Gig Harbor Now” launched, using WordPress, on September 3, 2021.

We’ve published 479 more stories (as of Sept. 1) since those first five articles went live. We had more than 87,000 online page views in the month of July, after barely clearing 16,000 in our first month. We typically make about 30 Facebook posts a week. We’re working on our Instagram game, admittedly with room for improvement there. We’re on Twitter and YouTube. We’re at city council meetings and high school football games. We write about local businesses and the arts scene.

In another post, Vince zooms out to look at non-profit news more generally:

Nonprofit news isn’t exactly new. Public broadcasters have operated for decades as nonprofits … But the sector is growing, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News: “Since 2017, more than 135 nonprofit news outlets have launched” … Nonprofits like Gig Harbor Now attempt to make up for some of what has been lost as the for-profit newspaper industry shrinks. According to the the State of Local News 2022 report from Northwestern University, a quarter of the nation’s newspapers closed since 2005. The report predicts that fraction will rise to one-third by 2025. 

Vince closes with this summary of why his work, and the work of all local journalists, is important:

By themselves, nonprofit news outlets won’t replace all that has been lost in the decline of the newspaper industry. The 11,000 newsroom jobs created by digital-only sites, including nonprofits, between 2008 and 2020 can’t make up for the more than 30,000 jobs lost at newspapers in the same period. But with continued support from the community, we can be part of the solution.  Taylor says nonprofits like Gig Harbor Now can be “the future of how people get their news. You have experienced reporters that are vetted and have to go through an (editing) process to get their news online.” It’s a critical function, as Pat Lantz, president of our board of directors, points out. “Information and news is as important in the infrastructure of a society as water pipes and roads,” Lantz said. “It is a utility. It is essential to society, the free flow of truth-based information.  

 In that last quote, Vince sums up much of what we’re saying here at KinshiPress. We are seeing a flourishing of local news, powered by WordPress. This is a important but fragile movement that needs to be encouraged and supported.

WordPress Powers Almost Every Publisher at the Nonprofit News Awards

The central idea here at KinshiPress is that this is an exciting new time for journalism. There is large group of new publishers that are mostly non-profit, mission-driven, and powered by WordPress.

This week provided excellent evidence to back up this idea. The Institute for Nonprofit News released their nominations for the “Nonprofit News Awards 2022”. Almost every single site is powered by WordPress.

Click here for the full list of the nominees.

I examined a couple of awards categories at random to check how many publishers were using WordPress. The answer was 14 out 15. WordPress really is powering a new generation of US journalists. Click below for some of best and most innovative new publishers:

Best Investigative Journalism Award

  1. Asheville Watchdog
  2. Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism
  3. The Appeal
  4. Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism
  5. The Maine Monitor
  6. Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
  7. Block Club Chicago (read our article on this publisher)
  8. inewsource
  9. Spotlight PA: not WordPress
  10. Center for Public Integrity
  11. EdSource
  12. Honolulu Civil Beat (read our article on this publisher)
  13. The Trace

Startup of the Year

  1. El Paso Matters
  2. The Kansas City Defender

What Happened When 4 Small Publishers Moved to WordPress?

The Local Media Association is a trade group that focuses on the business side of local media. They try to help newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations grow their bottom line.

They’ve just put out a detailed report explaining what happened when several Black-owned local media outlets moved to WordPress and Newspack. This list shows were the publishers involved in the project. Check out the history behind some of these organizations!

  1. New York Amsterdam News: Over 105 years old, it is one of the country’s oldest, continuously published African American newspapers.
  2. Houston Defender: Over 90 years old, it is Houston’s leading Black news source.
  3. The Washington Informer: Over 55 years old, it serves the African American community in Washington D.C. with over 50,000 readers of its weekly print edition.
  4. The Atlanta Voice: Over 50 years old, it is the largest audited African American community newspaper in Georgia with more than 600 print newspaper distribution locations.

These are publishers with enormous reach and significance, but often a lot of technical debt. Why did they move to WordPress?

Perhaps most compelling to the four publishers were the cost of entry and the premium migration service which removed many technical barriers to entry for newsrooms looking to leave their platform on a budget. Newspack aimed its price tiers to be economical enough to accommodate the budgets of small publishers.

The whole report is worth your time and does a good job of explaining why publishers choose WordPress and Newspack. The report was written about 1 year after the moves were complete.

This image below is taken from the report and shows the speed gains on the Houston Defender website. The pre-WordPress website is on the left and the new WordPress site is on the right.

Why Are Local News Publishers Growing in 2022?

Since early in 2022, I’ve been blogging here on KinshiPress about the explosion in local news publishers. Initially that was driven by a gut-feeling that something exciting is in the early, formative stages. These publishers are mostly non-profit, mission-driven, and powered by WordPress.

There’s now data to back that up: The Institute for Non-Profit News is reporting strong growth for local news startups.

This growth is happening, but why now? Why didn’t it happen 10 or 15 years ago? Many of the tools and motivations that these publishers are using also existed back then.

I don’t fully know the answer, but I read this post from Cal Newport with interest. It’s a long post that spends some time talking about that initial period on the internet 10 to 15 years ago. He says that many people launched online projects with the goal of finding and building communities to support their work. This is Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” idea. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these creators failed, and Newport has an idea of what went wrong:

Instead, the social-media giants effectively rerouted these connections through a small number of hulking algorithmic hubs, around which the collective creative output on the Web now ebbs and flows. If you’re a [publisher], the logic of this system makes it difficult for you to find and cultivate a dedicated group of fans. You can submit your [news] into the stream, but, once there, they will be chopped up and commoditized.

Are things different in 2022? Yes, Newport thinks so:

A shining example of the 1,000 True Fans model is the podcasting boom. There are more than eight hundred and fifty thousand active podcasts available right now. Although most of these shows are small and don’t generate much money, the number of people making a full-time living off original audio content is substantial …. According to an advertising agency I consulted, for example, a weekly podcast that generates thirty thousand downloads per episode should be able to reach Kelly’s target of generating a hundred thousand dollars a year in income.

Newport says this didn’t happen because of a technological breakthrough:

The real breakthroughs that enabled the revival of the 1,000 True Fans model are better understood as cultural. The rise in both online news paywalls and subscription video-streaming services trained users to be more comfortable paying à la carte for content. When you already shell out regular subscription fees for newyorker.com, Netflix, Peacock, and Disney+, why not also pay for “Breaking Points,” or throw a monthly donation toward Maria Popova? In 2008, when Kelly published the original “1,000 True Fans” essay, it was widely assumed that it would be hard to ever persuade people to pay money for most digital content. This is no longer true. Opening up these marketplaces to purely digital artifacts—text, audio, video, online classes—significantly lowered the barriers to entry for creative professionals looking to make a living online.

All in all, Newport’s article is well worth a read. It gave me a better understanding of why we might be seeing the rapid growth of local news publications in 2022. At the end of the article, Newport has some notes of caution about why this moment might be fleeting and potential dangers to watch for.

Baltimore Beat Launches as a WordPress Publisher in Baltimore

Back in May, we covered the upcoming launch of Baltimore Beat as a Black-led, Black-controlled nonprofit newspaper. The site launched this week.

You can read the launch post from Lisa Snowden, the newspaper’s editor:

We wanted to tell stories that reflected the fact that Baltimore City’s residents are more than 60% Black. We wanted to give Black writers the opportunities to tell their own stories.

I started blogging here at KinshiPress because there is a new wave of exciting, mission-driven start-ups and they’re nearly all on WordPress. You can see that in the background of some of staff at the Baltimore Beat. The staff come places such as The Appeal, The Real News, BmoreArt and The Trace, which all share similar DNA. They are non-profits, focused on specific topics, run by experienced journalists, and powered by WordPress.