Azerbaijan is a pretty terrible country to be a journalist in these days. The Committee to Protect Journalists named it last year as one of the 10 countries in the world where the media face the most restrictions.
Meydan TV, the last independent news outlet in the country, is trying to do something about that. According to their internal statistics, Meydan TV reached one-sixth of the country’s population last month. One-third of every person in Azerbaijan on Facebook has “liked” them. They were so good that they actually had to flee the country, set up shop in Berlin, and work with a network of secretive and freelance writers and producers still in the country. The human rights attorney Amal Clooney has even agreed to defend one of their reporters currently in jail in Baku. To say the charges against the journalist are spurious is far too kind.
Meydan TV is also a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)’s network. Last month, they approached me for advice after hearing through the OCCRP grapevine about the Push app ecosystem. I had written in December about a Push app I built to help small news organizations get their work out. I had also given a few talks about it.
Meydan TV had been shopping around for a mobile app and getting the standard prices of EUR20,000 to EUR50,000 (approximately US$22,000 to US$55,000) for each iOS and Android app. I saw this as a great test case for the second launch of Push and told a very ecstatic team at the station that instead of six months and EUR50,000 I could (in my capacity as an ICFJ Knight Fellow, with resources to introduce innovations) get the Meydan team up and running in a few weeks at a fraction of the cost.
This month, we launched the apps in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. In addition to the previously mentioned features – reading stories, offline caching, search and push notifications – the new Meydan app adds customizable multiple language support and fully embedded video players for YouTube (more video platforms on the way, let me know if you need them).
One of the best things that performing this second build-out allowed me to do was to the codify the process. Instead of wishing on a hope and prayer, this time around gave me the space to solidify the abstraction and build Push into the platform I’ve envisioned. Features missing from the OCCRP app, such as video players and multiple language support, have been added and expanded upon. In addition, since pretty much all the code is shared between all versions of the Push app, I can also start to automate a lot of processes and cut programmer time down even more.
With only modest programming (a basic config file, translation files and a few icons), you can get an iOS and Android built up and running without even opening developer tools.
What this basically means is automatic updates for anyone who wants to use Push in their own newsroom. When new features are released, you simply will run a small program to rebuild the app by pointing at a new version of the code and you’ll be (usually) guaranteed to have a perfectly up-to-date app ready to be uploaded to the stores and downloaded by your multitude of readers or viewers.
I’ve gotten quite a bit of a start down this path; they're almost ready to be released, in fact. [Note: If you’re a Ruby programmer, please get in touch for help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org].
In the meantime, please enjoy Meydan’s fantastic reporting on Azerbaijan, including investigations into corruption charges against the Aliyev family running the country.
Christopher Guess, a computer programmer and photojournalist, is an expert in mobile technology. He also has experience working on media sustainability projects. Learn more about his work as an ICFJ Knight Fellow here.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Christian Hornick.