The News Project Powers 'CalMatters' Relaunch


The News Project, a publishing platform startup built for small- and mid-size publishers, is powering the relaunch of CalMatters, the California nonprofit policy and politics site.

Today, the site debuted a new look, built on The News Project’s CMS.

The News Project, founded by media veteran and the first editor in chief of MSNBC.com Merrill Brown, aims to put software tools in the hands of digital publishers that don't have the funding or manpower to invest in the tech to grow their businesses, especially with member-funded business models.

“The idea here is that [organizations like] The New York Times have enormous capabilities to execute against all the challenges that news organizations face,” Brown told Publishers Daily. “The kinds of capabilities one needs to be successful are limited for smaller news organizations by technology and economics. We are trying to level the playing field, so smaller news organizations have access to the same kind of tech, platform services, ad delivery services, CMS, and — importantly — UI and UX capabilities.”

The News Project offers these solutions at a price point publishers “can afford,” he said.

It costs about $25,000 for a nonprofit news organization to license The News Project’s technology, and about $50,000 for a for-profit org. The publishers then pay a monthly subscription fee around $5,000 a month, Brown said.

Brown notes that The Washington Post’s Arc Publishing platform, for example, costs about six figures a month for its CMS.

The News Project also provides a suite of services to help sell advertising and subscriptions. Clients can get access to revenue tools like Piano, which specializes in membership management, and Google Ad Manager, to monetize through ads.

Clients also get “around-the-clock support from us,” in case something on the site breaks down, Brown added.

“We are really focused on much smaller publishers that need all these capabilities, so for-profit organizations get profitable and nonprofits are on a path to sustainability,” he said.

CalMatters is The News Project’s first client to go live, with a redesigned and rebranded website and a new logo.

The landing page is now designed to “drive people to register and to donate,” Brown said.

While the changes likely won’t “magically increase our traffic or how our readers behave,” it could affect the number of pages a reader accesses per visit, Neil Chase, CEO of CalMatters, told Publishers Daily.

The new tools also mean reporters “spend less time fiddling around in WordPress and more time reporting.”

“Local and state journalism is dying very rapidly and our nonprofit model is part of the solution,” Chase said. “We need journalism more than ever, and we are not going to have it if we don’t have new models.”

About 200 counties in the U.S. have no local newspaper, and roughly half the counties in the country have only one.

The News Project’s tools can also help CalMatters with the challenge of moving readers down the funnel, “to subscribe to our newsletter, become a member, come to our events and read us regularly,” Chase said.

“I don’t know if we would do all these things as quickly or at once if we had to go to different vendors,” Chase said. The News Project “allows us to grow the business operations side, to keep up with growth on the editorial side.”

CalMatters made $3 million in revenue last year, and is on track to draw in $5 million this year. The goal is to reach $10 million “in a couple years,” Chase said.

The News Project's second big client is ThinkProgress, which The Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, plans to sell.

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