Kolubarske launches as Serbian floods rise
I recently helped on the launch of Kolubarske, an independent internet daily in the Kolubara district of western Serbia, where I live. While I work for Sourcefabric, I had originally started helping Kolubarske in my free time. Sourcefabric became involved when the natural disaster struck.
It takes three key members to build a successful online newspaper, a good editor-in-chief, a committed photo editor and an experienced technical person. At least that's what someone can conclude from the first two days of life at the newborn kolubarske.rs. For longevity and sustainability, however, we'll need a few more collaborators, but for now, we are off to a flying start with a dedicated core team.
The launch of Kolubarske coincided with the most severe flooding the western part of Serbia (as well as the other half of the country) has ever experienced. The rivers swelled well above the maximum recorded levels over the past century, and the worst of it started soon after the rains stopped. Numerous landslides across the region meant that many people needed urgent help in the aftermath.
The town of Valjevo, where the Kolubarske team are based (and named after the river Kolubara) was one of the first to be hit by the floods. After two days of heavy rains, the central streets found themselves under water. What remained after the rains stopped and the river pulled back (a little bit) was terrific damage to the regulated riverbed, bridges and nearby parks. What was more critical was that the rivers had overflowed into the valley. Arable land was destroyed, roads were damaged and houses had been poisoned with mud.
In a strange twist of fate, Kolubarske was scheduled for launch on May 19th just a few days after the initial storms started. The team found themselves in a position to relay critical news and they had to react quickly. With the majority of the content for the first day already prepared, they had to reposition their top news stories and reroute content to reflect the situation alongside last minute technical preparations that go with the launch of any news site.
Our first reactions
On the first day, photo editor Đorđe Đoković woke up at 5 AM and went straight to the flooded downtown. With water over his knees, he took some striking images that rocked the social networks and called for immediate action.
Editor-in-chief, Darija Ranković promptly found the most relevant person to interview, the former mayor and engineer who led regulation projects of the Kolubara riverbed some thirty or more years ago.
Meanwhile, I was putting final touches on the site layout and connecting the platform to Facebook and Twitter. Sourcefabric had by this time recognized the urgent situation and offered the use of Live Blog, for real-time coverage of events. The team is currently integrating the tool for future situations.
First day success
On the launch day, everything had found its rightful place. Relevant content was accompanied by good photos on the base of a stable technological foundation. As soon as it was officially announced, people began interacting with the site and we received positive feedback from the community. Statistics from the Newscoop internal data, social networks and Google analytics were all confirming that it was a successful kickoff.
It took much more than a good idea for this project to be born. Working for Sourcefabric (and even Campware prior to that) for more than ten years, I've learned a few things about newsrooms. One thing that's certain, no matter the funding, social circumstance, potential audience or technical literacy of the team, the key element of a good newsroom are the people. Those who devote themselves, not only for the salary or an eight hour workday, but who believe in its mission, will achieve success.
Here's a little background on the individuals who make up Kolubarske:
- Darija Ranković had worked for years as an editor in a local news radio station, but resigned after political pressure from the owners and lack of support. When she moved to start Kolubarske she managed to convince two more journalists to join the team on a daily basis.
- Đorđe Đoković is a talented photographer and long-time adventurer who is best known in local circles for his fantastic macro-mode images of nature and everything else. He is also a well-established events photographer. He has proved to be just as good in the role of a photo-reporter.
- And then there is me, Ljuba Ranković. Having been involved in big Sourcefabric client projects as an implementer, I've started to think that our work could also apply to the Serbian media landscape.
So here we are, with big plans and ideas. The next site improvement will be the introduction of Live Blog. This takes human resources and some technical skill, but the newsroom is getting ready to use it. There will be a lot to cover in the next days and months as well. Some stories will involve collecting human aid, organizing help to the affected people and generally recovering from the catastrophe.
Then there will be the debates. Certain topics that are suggested by the editorial team will be argued either 'pro' or 'contra' by two experts. The audience will have an option to vote for either side and after that, a conclusion will be reported. The concern here is that after the transition and turbulences in society that we went through the last two decades, public dialog is affected by demagogy and tabloid culture. So the experts point of view on topical issues is not present.
The mission of the site overall is to present positive initiatives in this region and give them a place to speak. Highlighting success stories will cover everything from the Agricultural school and Nature Research Organization, to all the hundreds of successful professionals who have made great accomplishments in the world.
If Kolubarske succeeds, in six months to a year we might launch a new internet radio station, or push some content to a printed paper edition.
Help is always close at hand
In these days of tragic natural disasters in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, seeing people helping one another has returned my faith in humanity. And in the case of Kolubarske nothing like this would have been possible without the help from others. I am so thankful for their assistance. From the entrepreneur who gave us his former office free of charge for an unlimited time to our good friend and expat, now a successful Parisian graphic designer, who designed the logo and color scheme. And finally thanks, to all the good people at Sourcefabric who put in so many working hours, especially one developer on our team nick-named Baćko.