Launched in 2005, West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) promotes democratic and open societies. This article highlights a pioneering new project in Dakar, illustrates the political environment WADR works in, and outlines open source organisation Sourcefabric’s contribution in the form of open source technology, training and consultancy.
After three and a half years, Friday 11th March 2011 witnessed the end of the Charles Taylor war crimes trial. West Africa Democracy Radio’s coverage of the trial is a great example of everything that is innovative about the station. Their weekly shows not only kept the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia informed throughout with balanced, transparent reporting, but West Africa Democracy Radio’s cutting-edge approach to broadcast technologies meant that the resulting conversation on the ground in those countries was heard across West Africa and the world.
West Africa Democracy Radio’s unique methodologies allows them to broadcast across multiple languages, territories and cultures. Their commitment to quality journalism and open tools is one of the key reasons they and Sourcefabric are about to embark on a groundbreaking new radio project.
West Africa Democracy Radio’s mission states that “WADR is a hub for a West African network of public, private and community radio stations; creating an avenue for networking between these radio stations and a channel for dialogue among peoples of the respective countries they serve.”
Initiated to help the flow of news information between thirteen mainly West African countries including Mauritania, Chad and Cameroon, the WADR Headquarters are currently in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, with offices also in Freetown, Conakry and Monrovia.
Like every radio station, its network of correspondents work in an entirely unique way with a variety of interconnected reporting and broadcasting methods. These vary from the traditional FM broadcast on 94.9 in Dakar, to the more hi-tech satellite delivery amongst partner community radios for rebroadcast and translation into local languages. The networking methods range from compact discs being handed to pilots for distribution, to the website www.wadr.org which further widens the broadcast coverage, reaching out to the African diaspora and beyond in both French and English.
At the end of March, Sourcefabric will travel to Dakar for ten days and look at a special radio station. WADR’s unique requirements, expertise and approach to broadcasting have been a catalyst for real innovation.
Imagine a website and audio archive that must deal with multi-linguality, remote correspondents and editors, radio news delivered through audio, video, text and images, plus the ubiquitous, instantaneous need for dynamic, granular sharing amongst ever-changing social media networks. Imagine how this site must look to its audience with content they can search and filter, with programme calendars and sections for different types of news, and the different countries the news affects. Imagine the backend of the software, how the editorial staff must be able to move seamlessly between drafting newsreaders scripts to creating audio playlists, from live news reports to broadcast schedules, from archived programmes to Facebook discussions.
Actually, you’re imagining something that is simultaneously incredibly complex and completely, utterly normal. Most news organisations achieve this on a daily basis, but through either hacks and workarounds with smaller, incompatible proprietary software packages, or enormous and very costly bespoke content management systems. What Sourcefabric will be trying to achieve with WADR’s help is a middle way: compatibility and cost-effectiveness.
Impossible? As Matt Waite said recently in a great article on journalism tools, “all this talk about a digital future, about moving journalism onto the web, about innovation and saving journalism is just talk until developers are allowed to hack at the very core of the whole product.”
That’s where open source software comes in. One of the biggest hurdles for small media organisations is finding the money to build a system that can deliver effectively across the wide range of platforms needed in this era. Sourcefabric will be using Newscoop and Airtime, free tools built specifically for journalists, to try and achieve this. These software applications are open source and built to be adapted. As a result, they are easier to modify and integrate them with each other and other services, be that cloud-based audio servers like Soundcloud or decentralised social networks like Thimbl.
April will see the launch of the new WADR news platform, an affordable, modular approach to journalism that has enormous potential for news organisations and the maintenance of open conversations globally. “Promoting Dialogue” is the motto of WADR. Like all good mottos, it works in more ways than one.