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.
We're calling it "Push" and it's an open-source Android mobile app (iOS is coming) for news agencies and publications who don’t have the time, money or resources to build their own custom code base.
It's not fancy, but it takes care of the basics and lets you view the newest stories, read everything you want and search through archives. In a forthcoming update, we're going to add the ability to even run campaigns and collect donations from users through PayPal.
This product was initially developed with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and we launched their version recently. OCCRP will use the app to showcase its investigative reporting and approach storytelling in a different way than it has in the past.
"Delivering longform articles in a timely manner to a global audience is hard," OCCRP's chief technologist Smári McCarthy told me in a recent conversation. "A good mobile app with an elegant reading experience that alerts to new material allows us to reach a wider audience of people interested in the topic but might otherwise likely miss out on new material published on our website."
There are plugins for different CMS systems (right now Joomla is the only one fully functioning, but Wordpress is coming soon) so that you don't have to worry about customizing your current system or coming up with a complicated new publication system. Everything is handled silently behind the scenes.
The big kicker, though, 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.
The project is open source on Github here 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 belong to a media organization that might consider implementing Push, please email me at email@example.com, 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 Push take off. 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 over the last few years.
This post is also published on IJNet which is produced by ICFJ.
Main Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Emilian Robert Vicol. Secondary image screenshot of OCCRP's app.