What can open source do for media development?

Post originally published on Sourcefabric.org

Sourcefabric has worked with many great organisations such as @Verdade in Mozambique

By Veronika Divišová, Head of Strategic Partnerships

Media development is an integral part of what we do at Sourcefabric and a cornerstone of who we are as an organisation. We are the Robin Hoods. We offer support to media development through the creation of software designed and tailored to the needs of journalists and news organisations and we release it as open source.

So why open source software? How does that promote media development? What are the benefits and what are some of the challenges? What sets Sourcefabric software apart from other options?

Open source opens doors

We believe that open source tools are preferential to proprietary software because of their ability to include community input and collaboration in the development of the software. In practice, this means that the tools are more tailored and personalised to the needs of real people and organisations because the beneficiaries are able to directly influence the development process.

This direct user input is especially important because the needs of news organisations in developing countries are different from those in developed countries. For example, in many places in Africa, there is high saturation of mobile phone usage (not smartphones) and this situation means that a tool needs to be specifically created that can directly accommodate that. Compare this to Europe, where tools are tailored to smartphones and most people have access to high speed internet: this is a fundamental difference that influences the creation of a tool from conception to deployment.

In addition to this, open source software allows anybody to reap the benefits of development from a third-party. For example, if a news organisation requests a custom feature and provides us with funding to develop it for them, once it is created, it is usually then available to the whole community of users.

If a developer pays for the development of a tool, and it is within the open source domain, there is a greater chance that it will reach more people.

In the words of Sourcefabric co-founder Douglas Arellanes, “Open source acts as a multiplier for innovation, spreading solutions far beyond a single community or population. The resulting ecosystem of shared benefits and efficiencies works equally well in developed and developing countries — and not just in media development. It’s time for the business and NGO worlds to take notice.”

What sets Sourcefabric tools apart from alternative options?

Not to toot our own horn, but there are a few really good reasons why our tools make the most sense for newsrooms of any kind, not just in the context of media development.

With the rapid evolution of the new media industry (print to online) there is a demand for technology that can keep up with the pace of change. It is essential to the survival of news organisations. But here’s the issue, there are tools available, but most of them are not specifically tailored to the specific needs of a news organisation.

One of our goals at Sourcefabric is to make tools for media affordable and to specialise on newsrooms and the needs of the media. Our ultimate goal is to serve the needs of news organisations and communities and give them the best possible professional grade tools.

Our main differentiator in regards to our contribution to media development is not simply in our production of open source tools, but in our capacity to create something that needs minimal customisation.

It is often the case that independent news organisations have procured some sort of free or low-cost CMS to run their online news sites. This seems great in theory, but while the system seems free at the start, it eventually ends up costing a lot more money than had originally been planned for. What often happens is that they suddenly have to invest in the development of personalising the CMS for a news site. These systems aren’t made with news organisations in mind and end up being more expensive in the long run because of the large number of people that need to be involved in the process of customising it for news media. We provide software that is already tailored for newsrooms. Each step of the development process is done with newsrooms in mind, how decisions are made, workflow, etc.

The reason we design our software the way we do is because we have a fundamental belief that out-of-the-box software is not suitable for news organisations. Every newsroom needs a system that can respond to their needs but that can also easily adapt to more specific requirements.

That’s where open source makes a difference. Our software is modular, making it easy for news organisations to add and remove modules that they will not be using or building new ones. For example, a small news site does not need a paywall when they start out, but as they grow their readership base, it may make sense for them to implement one. With our software, a plugin can easily be added to allow for this.

This is important because the way that we make our tools means that the software can grow with an organisation and they can afford to make additions and expansions to the system. We know what are the types of things that developing news sites eventually need, and we help news organisations to adopt technology that is future-proof.

We support media development because it facilitates the existence of independent media organisations. This in turn increases the diversity and transparency of media ownership and often promotes democratic discourse. The goal is to ensure that relevant, accurate, and timely information is available to all people in a free society. Sounds pretty great, right?

Want to join the Robin Hoods? Check out our jobs page for current opportunities to join our team.

Found this post useful? Kindly tap the ❤ button below! :)