The country of Georgia has not traditionally been an easy place to make news. Yet, despite being ranked only 105th of 179 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index (compiled by Reporters Without Borders), a interesting group of media organizations are helping to build an open source CMS that they hope could change the dominance of traditional, government-approved media and shift power to more agile, innovative news start-ups.
NetGazeti is one of those organizations taking advantage of traditional press outlets that are slow to train journalists, build web platforms and leverage social networking. With only 6 full-time staff, organizations like NetGazeti can consistently over-achieve, through focused investigative journalism, a 24-hour publishing cycle and social media. They drive an large amount of traffic to their site from Facebook, much of it international, which gives them more selling power to potential advertisers and funders.
“While most Tbilisi-based newspapers are not active on the web, regional newspapers have been steadily expanding their online presence,’ says Freedom House’s 2012 Press Freedom Report. ‘Start-up web publications, such as the independent NetGazeti, are gaining readers.”
NetGazeti have been using Newscoop, an open source media CMS built by nonprofit Sourcefabric, since 2009. Alongside ten other young media organizations in the region they’ve been working with Sourcefabric’s team to help develop the tool. The influence of these organizations on the latest release, Newscoop 4.1, was so great that it is codenamed Sakartvelo; the Georgian word for this country of five million inhabitants.
Having an open source tool is important for these organizations because development occurs more rapidly, improvements are shared with a worldwide community and new features are also built by others. ‘The web portals of news agencies, such as Interpressnews.ge, are widely used for fact-based news, while blogs and social-networking sites, such as Facebook, are playing a growing role in spreading news and information,’ says Freedom House. ‘The adoption of web tools by the traditional media has been hindered by journalists’ and editors’ general lack of understanding and skills relevant to online media.’
Search is also vital to these organizations. The primary improvement in Newscoop 4.1 was improving readers’ ability to search news sites; a feature specified by these organizations in Georgia, but valuable all over the globe. Search offers a way for people to find relevant information quickly. Happy, returning visitors means a more attractive proposition for advertisers and content partners, and potentially more financial stability.
Searching on Newscoop sites can now be powered by Solr, the open source enterprise search platform made by the Apache Lucene project and used by used by Netflix, Instagram, SourceForge, Internet Archive, NASA, WhiteHouse.gov, Apple and many more. Its major features include powerful full-text search, hit highlighting, database integration, and rich document (e.g., Word, PDF) handling.
Solr is highly scalable, so as sites grow, so does their search engine, which is continually indexing new content and even new mini-sites, blogs or article types. This is vital for blossoming Georgian news sites like Batumelebi, tspress.ge and Liberali. Their needs shape the CMS they are using, allowing them to get ahead in the digital sphere and become sustainable, independent online news sources.
The link between content management systems and press freedom may not always seem immediately clear but as a recent Reporters Without Borders article explained, ‘Independence is obviously very constrained for media personnel when the political orientation of media is so closely correlated with the views of their owners. The creation of really independent media with strong safeguards against owner interference in their editorial policies and investigative reporting is one of the leading challenges Georgia faces.’
The ability of organizations in countries like Georgia to shape and own their own tools allows them to shape their own futures. Where plurality of media expression is involved, that is really important.