Here at KinshiPress, I write about WordPress for publishers.
One of the key players in the WordPress publishing ecosystem is Newspack. They have a hosted service, but it’s also possible to download and use Newspack independently.
In this guide, I’ll introduce Newspack and show how you can use it for self-hosted projects.
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:
WordPress is already the tool of choice among most small publishers. But it can be daunting to setup and maintain. Newspack solves that by pre-configuring about 50 different plugins that are not only designed to meet the needs of news publishers but also represent best practices across the industry.
Automattic launched the service in 2019, with over a dozen newspapers. Back then, I wrote an early review and filmed an introduction to Newspack with Steve Beatty from their team. In the last few years, Newspack has now grown to support over 300 publishers. We’ve written about some of them including Mountain State Spotlight, Patagonia Regional Times, Central Current, and also four other small publishers.
Getting Started with Newspack Self-Hosting
Newspack is available as a hosted service, with prices starting at $750 per month.
However, you can freely download and use Newspack for your own clients and projects. Newspack is also freely available on Github. There are several repositories available including these:
I’ve spoken with several WordPress publishers who have launched publications for customers, using Newspack. In this guide, I’ll show you how to get started with Newspack on your own hosting platform.
Although there are multiple repositories, I recommend downloading and installing the main Newspack Plugin.
From the welcome screen, choose “Start a new site”. If you do choose “Migrate an existing WordPress site” the process will be similar to what I’m about to describe. The only difference is that Newspack will import 50 articles from your existing site and use those instead of dummy content.
Newspack will then start a welcome process. First it will allow you to add your publisher’s details and logo.
Next, it will give two options for additional services. Reader Revenue is donation feature, powered by WooCommerce. Newsletters is powered by the Newspack Newsletters plugin and allows you to send newsletters from your site using Gutenberg blocks. It is similar to Newsletter Glue that we use for the KinshiPress newsletter.
Finally, you’re given a range of frontpage design options. This uses the “Newspack Blocks” plugin. You can also choose a color scheme thanks to the “Newspack Theme”.
When you’ve finished this process, you’ll have a fairly complete news website. This screenshot below shows the result I got within 2 minutes of installing the Newspack plugin.
Newspack installs a handful of plugins and suggests a lot more. If you visit the “Plugins” screen, you’ll see a lot of these suggested plugins are visible with the “Install” link.
These plugins are a mix of common WordPress plugins such as Yoast, Automattic plugins such as WooCommerce and Jetpack, plus also partner services such as Broadstreet Ads.
I don’t agree with all the choices. Some of these plugins are only available as commercial products. And, I might be very biased and say that our PublishPress Authors is better than Co-Authors Plus. But overall Newspack provides a helpful range of useful plugins.
Thoughts on Self-Hosting for Newspack
Newspack is a great product and it’s great that so much of their work is freely available on Github.
If I have one suggestion for improvement, it’s that some of these plugins and the Newspack theme should be in the official WordPress.org repositories. It can be a real hassle to keep plugins updated if they’re only on Github. Some of these plugins such as Newspack Blocks are really good! I know it’s extra work for a small team, but Newspack as whole could benefit from having it’s work available via the normal WordPress distribution channels.
I spoke with Dan Knauss who has experience with self-hosted Newspack. He agreed that it’s an excellent product, but that the Github updates can be a pain. Dan added feedback about the Newspack approach to design:
The Newspack theme options are very good, although from the era of the Customizer. So if you want to be very current and use the Site Editor, that’s out. In terms of their design and overall concept, they are in tune with the way a news organization or digital magazine team will traditionally think and work. It would be great to see something similarly conceived land in a very cutting edge theme, but we are talking about inherently conservative organizations here so that may be the wrong expectation.
Overall, if you are launching a new publisher site for yourself or a client, I’d can strongly recommend that you check out the Newspack plugin and the connected services. It’s a great way for publishers to start a WordPress project.