Hacks/Hackers Amman Supports Jordanian Journalists

UNESCO’s Amman office was home to the technical day organized by Hacks/Hackers Amman Chapter with the objective to provide technology solution to different issues Jordanian journalists face.

Participants included a wide range of ‘hackers’, organizations and figures in the Ammani vibrant and dynamic tech scene, including Hacks/Hackers members, the Jordan Open Source Association and different prominent local IT companies and programmers. On the other hand, journalists and professionals from media organizations like ARIJ, Alghad daily and the Amman-based private TV station Roya, fully participated at the day by expressing some of the IT-related challenges they face and by understanding how technology can be an important, even critical, part of any media strategy to be taken into account.

The tech day was opened by a speech of ARIJ’s Director of Investigative Journalism, Saad Hattar, who stressed the importance of innovative tools on journalism, generally, and investigative journalism in the specific.

Ayman Salah, Knight International Journalism Fellow in the Middle East, explained how the use of some phone-based tools could be advantageous in remote areas where different communication channels are almost nonexistent, citing CGNet Swara, that allowed people in India to use mobile phones to send and receive reports in their local language, another use mentioned, was Swara’s previous utilization in Egypt; the two-way communication of the tool allowed people to listen to pre-recorded news reports from a newsroom, as well as allowing citizens to record audio news reports themselves by the only use of phones.

Similarly, Salah explained to participants how SMS tools can be used to send and receive reports in several fields, a good example he gave was the use of Frontline SMS to help fishermen in Ghana to be informed about better locations to sell their fish, as well as best stock prices for their catch and which species do offer a better profit margin.

Several journalists expressed their concerns about the authenticity of data collected in such ways, opening a fruitful discussion on how to make this citizen-reported pieces of news verifiable and how to adopt tools and methodologies to keep data collected by non-journalists reliable.

Later, Drupalist and JOSA member Mohammad Khamash, had a short introduction on open source technologies and how they help (and helped) different media organizations. Stressing on points like cost effectiveness and vendor lock-in, different media organizations realized the several benefits of open source software as they expressed their willing to better adopt these technologies in their workspaces.

Khamash discussed how the Jordan Open Source Association helped the local radio station, Radio Al-Balad, to switch to Linux operating system from a proprietary one, stressing how this move helped to cut expenses and, at the same time, keeping the organization’s workflow unaltered.

The Jordan Open Source Association, according to Khamash, used Drupal, an open source content management system (CMS), to create different web applications and web based tools relevant to several civil sections, he mentioned, as well, an array of examples of how Drupal has been used worldwide in the journalism sector.

Other open source CMSs, specifically WordPress, was seen to be well-known and of interest by the journalists participating in the day. IT professional, Zamil Safwan, suggested JOSA to hold training sessions about WordPress and basic programming, a suggestion well appreciated by JOSA’s vice president and Hacks/Hackers member, Mahmoud Aldwairi, who expressed intention to organize these sessions the sooner.

Khamash also mentioned a Citizen Journalism mobile app, developed by JOSA under Hacks/Hackers Amman Chapter, to allow smartphone holders to take and upload photos and videos taken by their handsets. Additionally, the app allows the transmission of text-based reports and is currently open to include new functionalities, like geo-tagging and better management by media organizations using the tool. A customized version of the app is going to be deployed at Community Media Network soon.

The day concluded with an open discussion about other several technologies that can push journalistic work ahead, the participants finally suggested the organization of other similar events to raise awareness about IT solutions and to push the overall advancement of media technologies in the Arab World.