A digital newsroom for the pocket

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    DW Akademie

The open source tool Colmena strengthens Morocco’s community media in the fight against patriarchal structures

Khaoula Derfouf’s goal for community media comes without frills: “Our web radio Mothers Online aims to include as many single moms as possible.” In the Northern part of Morocco, Khaoula helps run the feminist association 100% Mamans, which trains unmarried mothers as media workers. This strategy has proven highly efficient in fighting gender-based violence – the daily struggle of single mothers in Morocco – and to provide them with skills to become economically independent.

Yet the capable web radio team face a variety of challenges. Not only do they have to deal with patriarchal structures and attitudes, but also with many nitty-gritty tech issues. “Due to financial limitations, our outdated software constantly crashes,” says Khaoula. Necessary software and security updates often cannot be completed successfully, which have led to audio materials and documents being lost more than once. “But we can’t really move to another program because we lack the necessary training and it’s also really expensive to pay for a licence every year,” Khaoula explains with much despair.

Looking for viable solutions, the women of 100% Maman decided to attend a community media event in Rabat, Morocco in early May. Jumping from session to session with other media professionals, they joined a hands-on workshop of the open-source newsroom app Colmena. The digital tool was co-created by and for community radios under the guidance of DW Akademie, supported by the BMZ. Colmena integrates features like audio recording, multi-track editing and file sharing. The workshop participants were trying out all this on their own smartphones, receiving tips and tricks from the facilitators.

Khaoula was thrilled. “[Colmena] is very interesting. it offers all the necessary tools we need to produce our podcast, from the first interviews to the last steps before publication.” She sees a lot of potential in the audio recorder and the editor, highlighting the sound quality. For her, just one thing is missing to increase accessibility: “Let’s work together on a full Arabic version!”

This is the kind of demand Melkizedek Mirasi has been receiving for almost three years – the time it took to move from a first proof of concept to a full version of Colmena. Mel, as he is known in his hometown of Kibera in Kenya, forms part of the UX team of Colmena and works with the partner organization Tanda.net. “We made sure several media partner organizations from Africa engaged in the prototype design process,” he says. “Their contributions, through feedback and review sessions can’t be overstated when discussing Colmena’s software development success in the past few years.”

At least two key concepts directly emerged in the dialogue with future users. One is the “mobile first” approach, delivering high performance on mobile devices, as this is the main device used by many community journalists in the Global South. The second central concept for Colmena is the “offline first” approach: “The need was made clear by community radios in Kenya, who insisted on the tool’s ability to work in regions with limited internet connectivity,” remembers Mel. “Unstable broadband connectivity and the high cost of internet are not only a problem in Kenya.”

Mel’s engagement shows the collaborative dimension of the software development that involved more than 30 community media organizations from Africa, Latin America, and Ukraine. Like 100% Mamans, “all those organizations often struggle to find effective free tools for content production,” Mel points out. He has hundreds of ideas of how to improve Colmena and continue its development. “However, I also recognize the immediate need to train media partners as catalysts for change. This will enhance the adoption of the tool among media organizations across the world.”

The workshop in Morocco was only the beginning of the team’s goal to reach more community media in need of reliable software. Soon, more organizations like 100% Maman’s will connect with Colmena and successfully incorporate it into their newsroom.