Colmena: The digital newsroom software launches | Innovation for Dialogue | DW | 10.04.2024
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Innovation for Dialogue

Colmena: The digital newsroom software launches

The open source media production software celebrates its launch this week. The DW Akademie project has been developed with local partners around the world for newsrooms that struggle with internet connectivity.

A Pwani FM reporter speaks to someone on location

Colmena is especially effective in field reporting and production

On Thursday, April 11, the world of available open-source tools for journalists will be enriched by a new app called Colmena. Behind this name is a digital newsroom that can run on almost every mobile device and allows for collaborative audio and podcast productions, even with limited internet connectivity. Users can record interviews, edit them, and share them in the cloud.

You might have found your newsroom struggling to produce stories during the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps you face Internet shutdowns or frequent power cuts. Luckily, these situations are exactly what Colmena was created for – or rather "co-created for."

A collaborative tool from the start

From the very beginning in early 2021, Colmena has been a collective effort from DW Akademie and three partner organizations – REDES AC, and Cambá – as well as input from over 30 media organizations from the Global South and Ukraine. It has been designed to help local and community media organizations to successfully produce stories, despite any technological hurdles they might face.

"To be part of this creation process was and is one of the coolest things I have experienced," saysMichelle Nogales from the feminist online magazine Muy Waso in Bolivia. "In times of a roaring global pandemic the work in this tool, together with other media partners from Guatemala, Peru and even some countries from Africa, created a sense of belonging and a common perspective."

Michelle Nogales, CEO of Muy Waso

Michelle Nogales has used the software to produce podcasts for her feminist media outlet Muy Waso

A global approach to local journalism

Colmena is Spanish for beehive, a metaphor for busy, collaborative tinkering. With the support of software developers and tech consultants from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Tunisia and Ukraine, the early framework turned into the first beta version in less than twelve months.

"Colmena boosted our interest in podcast productions," says Nogales. "We were part of the early testing group and, when we managed to produce 2 or 3 episodes for the first time, this felt great.  Colmena is really a good tool to do recordings and basic editing."

More than 11,000 kilometers away from Muy Waso’s homebase in Cochabamba, Ken Wekesa, a radio producer and podcaster from Kenya echoes the enthusiasm. "Colmena has revolutionized our content production and distribution and provided a safe space for the journalists of our radio station Pwani FM to collaborate online."

Pwani FM studio in Kenya

Pwani FM studio not only developed the software, but uses it in their journalistic reporting

Reporting from any field

While the staff of the Pwani FM, a local broadcaster from Mombasa, use a variety of production tools, Wekesa has promoted the use of Colmena by their field reporters. "It has definitely improved our news gathering and participatory productions in rural areas with poor internet connection."

Up until now, Pwani FM had been somewhat limited in their implementation, as the team was beta testing the software. They will be happy to know that the full Colmena software is currently available, which is now scalable and has a new, handier user interface.

Whoever is interested in installing the digital newsroom on a server can download the well-documented source code for free from Gitlab.

Providing reliable service

In parallel, DW Akademie and its partners are also hosting Colmena as a reliable service (SaaS) for interested media outlets, meaning they will host the software on servers to allow media organizations to access it.

"We are prepared for the onboarding of new users in the next days and weeks," says Neto Licursi from the Argentinian cooperative Cambá who leads the development and maintenance of the project. The service will be available to DW Akademie members and its partners for capacity-building and media development. Yet other outlets can request accounts, as well.

"With Colmena, we have opted for an open source approach, because such tools can only be sustainable if they are conceived and maintained as an open innovation," says David Olmos, head of DW Akademie’s South America Unit. "This is why, together with the launch of the software, we also celebrate the start of the Colmena partner consortium."

A woman conducts an interview on the street in Bolivia

Colmena was designed for newsrooms with limited internet connectivity

Olmos went on to express his approval that all four organizations decided to formalize their collaboration by creating a consortium to maintain the source code and to provide opportunities for local and community media to access the software through the Saas.

A chance to share experiences

In the coming months, the consortium will focus its work on fostering the user community and fundraising for future development and setting up regional hubs. A shared vision of media outlets like Muy Waso and Pwani FM is to further integrate Colmena into existing and emerging publishing platforms.

Yet the consortium will not stop there. Wekesa also dreams of a shared space "to collaborate with other community radio stations globally."

For Muy Waso, they imagine "a platform that brings together productions from rural and indigenous territories with content that responds to our realities." Nogales went on to say that "there is great potential, to glue together people with accessible low-tech tools. We believe in the potential of Colmena."

If you'd like to know more about Colmena, join us for the launch at 2 pm UTC on Thursday, April 11.

Colmena was developed by DW Akademie and its partners and is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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