For one-time NPR and NYT digital chief, a new adventure: WordPress

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When Kinsey Wilson was leading digital transformation at USA Today 15 years ago, WordPress was emerging from a single bit of code that helped pretty up typography for casual writing.

Since then, Wilson went on to spearhead digital change at NPR and at the New York Times, and WordPress became the world’s biggest self-hosted blogging tool, powering 29 percent of all sites on the web.

This morning, Automattic Inc., announced that Wilson would become president of its flagship commercial venture, the WordPress.com publishing platform. That effort integrates social and ad tools for some of the leading digital publishers.

Read the full interview

About

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 6.07.59 PMKinsey Wilson is one of the leading digital news executives in the nation. He has held senior positions at The New York Times, NPR and USA TODAY and played a key role in the digital transformation of their businesses. In March, he left The Times to join Automattic Inc. as President of WordPress.com, overseeing the company’s flagship commercial product, which powers millions of web sites. At the The Times, Wilson held dual masthead titles as Editor for Innovation and Strategy and Executive Vice President for Product and Technology. A member of the company’s executive committee, he led a team of more than 900 technologists, designers, product managers and editors responsible for guiding the company’s digital strategy and creating products that give expression to New York Times journalism, including its pioneering podcast, The Daily. Widely heralded for the excellence of its digital report, The Times has seen its audience grow to 100 million monthly unique users and more than 2.5 million paying digital subscribers.

Wilson joined The Times in February 2015 after six years in senior leadership positions at NPR. As EVP and Chief Content Officer he oversaw NPR’s worldwide news gathering, programming and digital operations. Under his leadership, NPR became known as a leading digital innovator, pioneering new forms of listening including NPR One, a popular one-touch digital listening platform. During that time, NPR’s journalism was recognized with major honors including duPont-Columbia, Peabody and Emmy awards.

Wilson began his journalism career at Chicago’s storied City News Bureau, covering cops and working the overnight desk. He was a newspaper reporter for 15 years, including seven at Newsday. He moved into executive leadership in 1995 at Congressional Quarterly, where he helped move the organization beyond its weekly magazine roots through the development of a lucrative legislative tracking service. Later, as Editor-in-Chief of usatoday.com and Executive Editor of USA TODAY he helped define the standards for online journalism through coverage of major news events including the 2000 presidential election, 9/11, the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. Wilson is a visiting fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, a trustee of the Poynter Institute and a member of the board of visitors for the Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. He was an early leader of the Online News Association and president of the organization in 2007. He has served as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism.

Wilson is a graduate of the University of Chicago and lives in New York City.

FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE: HELP OUT OR PAY UP

First published on NiemanLab as part of their 2018 predictions for journalism.


“Either Facebook and Google are platforms, in which case they need to manage their infrastructure in a way that allows independent journalism to thrive. Or they are publishers, in which case they need to provide direct financial support for the journalism their platforms deliver.”

BY KINSEY WILSON

With a hat-tip (or apologies) to Axios and Mike Allen, who have reinvented the email newsletter and made it a must-read…

1 Big Thing: The next big battle with the platforms

As more and more news organizations turn to paid subscriptions to offset dwindling digital ad revenue, the next big issue they’ll confront is who controls the customer: publishers or platforms. Specifically, who determines the pricing, bundling, and fulfillment of subscription payments in an aggregated news environment.

Why it matters: Depending on how it plays out, the platforms could lend added muscle to efforts to find a sustainable business model for digital news and information. Or they could rob editorial enterprises of one of the last remaining points of economic leverage, namely their trusted relationship with the reader.

To their credit, Google and Facebook are in the early stages of testing how they might support publishers’ subscription models.

So what’s the rub? Digital subscription and membership models have yet to prove themselves as an industry-wide solution. A handful of big publishers (and several smaller niche publishers) have seen real success. But most have so far struggled to generate meaningful revenue.

In a news-feed environment where readers encounter a mix of free and paywalled content, there is a real question whether they’ll be willing subscribe to a multitude of different publications. If they don’t, it’s almost inevitable that the platforms will urge publishers to blend and bundle multiple titles into a single coherent subscription package.

And publishers will find themselves with a Hobson’s choice: Try to drive standalone subscriptions in a crowded marketplace, where only a few thrive. Or give in to bundling and turn over to the platforms their relationship with the reader in return for fractional shares of the bundled price. Neither outcome is likely to be satisfying or sustainable.

Independent, fact-based news gathering is the foundation of an informed society. In disrupting the business model for news, Facebook and Google have done so without replacing the essential news gathering on which democracy depends. (Indeed, to their chagrin, the platforms have lately become purveyors of an alarming amount of misinformation.) In that environment, the question of their obligation to news publishers, to journalism, and to society looms large. The solution is fairly simple, if not easily achieved.

Be smart: Either Facebook and Google are platforms, in which case they need to manage their infrastructure in a way that allows independent journalism to thrive. Or they are publishers, in which case they need to provide direct financial support for the journalism their platforms deliver.

Simply put, that either means providing tools for publishers to manage their business on the platforms (via APIs and direct ownership of the customer). Or it means paying publishers for their content.

Google has taken an important first step in giving publishers control over how many stories can be viewed for free when readers click through from search.

But it is merely the first step in a larger conversation over control of the customer that will unfold in the year ahead.

Kinsey Wilson is a digital executive with The New York Times

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