It’s hard to get people to read your work. That's been the thorn in the side of editors and publishers since Martin Luther figured out that taking a hammer to the church door would get his point across. It hasn't gotten much easier.
This is doubly true if you’re a small organization. The options out there are limited to a small range of social media sites and your own website. The drawbacks on these options are well-known, wide-ranging and infuriating. Facebook makes you pay if you want more than 10 percent of your user base to actually even see your post, and trying to have people remember your site’s URL, much less come back to it, is an exercise in futility.
As a counter to this, many large news organizations are turning to mobile apps to distribute content. However, mobile apps are expensive, time-intensive to develop and difficult to maintain. There’s no easy way for small organizations to create an app without hiring two developers for US$130k/year and giving them office space and Red Bull for nine months.
For these organizations (and anyone that wants a simple, customizable news app), I built an easier, simpler alternative.
I call it “Push” and it’s an open source iOS and Android mobile app for news agencies and publications who don’t have the time, money or resources to build their own custom code base.
There’s very little variety in news apps, and Push checks the feature boxes that most news apps tend to cover. Push lets a user read stories, view photos, watch videos, share to social media and search through archives. Readers using the app can access the publication’s most recent stories and can read them on the go, whether they have an internet connection or not, an important feature in areas of the world where internet access can be limited.
The big impact feature for the app, however, is the ability to use push notifications that put a new story right on users’ lock screens, even if they haven’t opened the app in weeks. This allows those publications who may not have new, or the most exciting content every day, to easily pull readers in and highlight the best they produce.
Since launching initially with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2015, we’ve added seven more investigative journalism centers who are using Push. I’ve cut down the amount of time needed to build a news app via Push from a week to a day, and — in a boost for especially resource-strapped newsrooms — the servers needed to run the app can be hosted on the free tier that Amazon AWS offers its customers. I’ve also created plugins for different CMS systems including the very popular Joomla and WordPress backends, so that you don’t have to worry about customizing your current system or coming up with another complicated solution. Everything is handled silently behind the scenes.
Meydan TV, the only independent media outlet in Azerbaijan, was one of the first member centers to start using Push. The apps are especially important for Meydan because they provide readers a way to still access Meydan’s content if its website is taken down by hackers.
“This project is not just helping us to reach a new audience,” Meydan Director Emin Milli said. “[It] is making sure that people will have access to our content when even darker times will come, which is now happening in our region with Turkey, Russia and all the countries around there.”
Newsrooms around the world can use Push to create their own apps. The project is open source on Github so all of our features and improvements benefit the rest of the community. We’re also accepting pull requests and any suggestions people have about how to make this more useful and more powerful for the entire journalism community.
If you’re interested in using Push, please email me at cguess [at] icfj [dot] org, and I can talk you through what you would need to do to implement this system.
I welcome any comments or suggestions on how to help bring Push to an even wider audience than the 10,000 users we have now. The goal is for organizations such as OCCRP and the hundreds of others like it to finally tap a resource that’s been sorely missing since the smartphone was invented almost 10 years ago.
This post was first published on Nov. 6, 2015 and has been updated since then.
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 mondays child. Secondary image screenshot of OCCRP's app.