About a year ago, in June 2019, we published our first study of how newsrooms interact with WordPress, the open-source content management system (CMS) that’s widely used by small-to-medium sized publishers.

The purpose of the study was to understand the typical newsroom workflow; the tools with which WordPress interacts; the user journey of both editorial and business in newsrooms; the roles who use WordPress; and pain points specific to newsroom usage.

We conducted this research to help inform the development of Newspack, a new WordPress-based platform designed specifically for news producers. Our hope is that Newspack, developed openly and in collaboration with newsrooms and experts, will solve many of the technical problems that newsrooms face.

Here’s a recap of the findings in our first report, which explored how newsrooms interact with WordPress itself:

  • Newsroom users generally found WordPress easy to use, especially for its core intended function of putting content online. Its ability to address other facets of publication, such as visual appearance, content distribution, and metrics evaluation were less reliably serving user needs.
  • Visually arranging content on the site was a commonly felt pain point, as was not having adequate control over promotional content (such as pop-ups and other CTAs) that appears on the site.
  • Business-side users do not necessarily see the WordPress system itself as a means to generate revenue.
  • Technical confidence (that is, the ability to confidently use WordPress for a variety of functions) can be a very large pain point. Even if there is a contract developer available for assistance—which is not a given—users may fear making “technical” decisions or changes that might affect the functionality of the live site.

Following up

By October 2019, the first Newspack-powered website had launched. Since then, the platform has been adopted by numerous newsrooms from Chile to the United States to Uganda, with interesting innovations (and lessons) along the way.

With several organizations now using Newspack, we wanted to see how participants and Automattic technologists experienced the pilot project; and to record learnings from the pilot that might shape how to approach future Newspack cohorts. Once again, we commissioned Amanda Krauss, PhD, a user experience researcher and technologist, to lead the project.

Some key findings from our latest study:

  • All pilot participants and technologists were very happy with the process. Newsrooms felt like active participants in feature development, and technologists found great value in working directly with their users.
  • Newspack undoubtedly solved the problem of visual flexibility and allowed newsrooms greater potential for creative publication than they had previously possessed. Newspack has begun to solve the problem of presenting promotional content.
  • The role of Newspack in reducing or replacing the need for website management-related technical resources is unclear, and depends greatly on an individual newsroom’s technical knowledge and resources.
  • Potential improvements going forward should focus on providing deeper, more standardized education and documentation to broad groups of users.

We’re very happy to report that Newspack has established itself as a valuable tool for newsrooms, as well as a valuable method for building sites collaboratively. The project faces challenges — most notably how to scale the hands-on support experienced by pilot newsrooms, and some key revenue generating features are still in process — but the overall rate of satisfaction was very high for all participants.