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Newscoop in the Sudans, Iraq and Afghanistan: powering multi-lingual magazines in Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashtu

Afghanistan has a wealth of languages, but Dari functions as the nation's lingua franca, while Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group. I Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Afghanistan has a wealth of languages, but Dari functions as the nation's lingua franca, while Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group. I Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Exactly when the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine named "Niqash" as one of the "top 10 sites to follow if you want to understand events in Iraq” in late 2014, Sourcefabric started working with the Berlin-based NGO MiCT to re-launch Niqash and two other news sites based in Afghanistan and the Sudans.

MiCT stands for Media in Cooperation and Transition. The organisation implements media development projects in crisis regions. In the Kurdish capital Erbil, Northern Iraq, they have a small office, used for journalism trainings, and it was there where I encountered MiCT for the first time, years ago, working as a journalism trainer for a different organisation.

Because of this, we at Sourcefabric were already familiar with some of the interesting projects MiCT works on when I took over as a project manager. Since last year, a lot has happened between MiCT and Sourcefabric, starting with a series of three magazine site re-launches. What then sounded like a quick implementation project became an intensive year-long partnership. And now, we successfully launched three multi-lingual websites and are currently working to implement a longform storytelling tool called Storyteller for Afghanistan Today.

Overcoming the challenges of multilingual websites

The first site re-launch was for Niqash. It’s a tri-lingual magazine, i.e. magazine articles are published in Arabic, in English, and in Kurdish language. Both their Kurdish and Arabic editors and many contributors work in Baghdad and in the Kurdish Autonomous Region.

Multi-linguality is something Newscoop typically handles easily (an area where many other content management systems struggle). In spite of our multilingual capabilities, handling an implementation project with content in languages one hardly knows to read can be tricky. At least I can say that my skills of reading the Arabic alphabet grew considerably during that implementation. By the way: what might look like Arabic to you on the Niqash front page may also be Kurdish, for which there is not only one Kurdish language, but three, and the Sorani variant spoken in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region is obviously written in the Arabic alphabet as well. Just learn that: کوردی means Kurdish and you’ll be all set.

Homepage of Niqash

Homepage of Niqash

Niquash’s local editors have been working with Newscoop for several months now after being trained by Niqash’s editorial head, Cathrin Schaer. They have contributed hundreds of articles since. “It is in general a good website, especially in terms of software”, Zanko Ahmad, the Kurdish editor based in Kurdistan concludes after the switch from a proprietary system that was used to publish Niqash before the re-launch.

After Niqash, two implementation projects followed that may seem pretty similar by design, but of course had their own set of challenges under the hood.

Afghanistan Today” is Niqash’s sister site from Afghanistan. Before Sourcefabric became involved, Afghanistan Today was published in English only. Fortunately Newscoop brought the technical capability to also start publishing in Afghanistan’s two official languages, Dari (a language branch of the Western Iranian languages, similar to Persian and Kurdish) and Pashto (an Eastern Iranian language), plus English. One special challenge was that Afghanistan’s (and Iran’s) official calendar is the Solar Hijri calendar. As Newscoop has not been used in these countries yet, we are missing that functionality. Fortunately, Newscoop is highly modular, and we are now keen to develop a plugin to include this calendar with MiCT.

Homepage Afghanistan Today

Homepage Afghanistan Today

Last but not least came “The Niles”. The magazine whose name refers to the fabulous two source rivers of the Nile covers Sudan, and South Sudan. MiCT’s The Niles team provides training there and inspires great journalism in the war-ridden countries south of Egypt. The website is published in English and Arabic as well.

Homepage of The Niles

Homepage of The Niles

In the meantime, MiCT has also been using our online radio broadcasting software, Airtime, for radio projects in Syria and for a radio program delivering medical information to the people in Sierra Leone since the start of the Ebola crisis in early 2015. When MiCT initiated a project to help Mali’s public broadcaster with their digitisation, we were happy to help with our expertise in online media and digital journalism workflows.

“All of MiCT’s projects are about civil conflict resolution and prevention”, MiCT’s project manager Christine Liehr explains. They are projects intended to improve journalism in crisis-struck countries and former war areas to reduce stereotypes and social tensions. According to Christine, through Niqash, Afghanistan Today and The Niles, MiCT gives local journalists a platform to publish, for some of them “the first public platform to gain profile in their profession”. This allows local and international audiences to gain access to reports and opinion pieces on topics rarely covered by any of the big newspapers.

By unifying the CMS software and backend of those three sites through using Newscoop, MiCT took a big step in improving their editorial workflow. Now it is easier for their project teams to cooperate and to implement new formats and features, allowing continuous enhancement of the sites.

The next big milestone is already coming up. With Afghanistan Today’s team of editors, Sourcefabric is now working on the next feature of Afghanistan Today, a Storyteller-based longform theme to give those great stories from Afghanistan the space they deserve.

Are you running a project that is in line with our organisation’s mission and could use our help? Send an email to contact@sourcefabric.org and we’ll see what we can do for you.

If you like what you have just read and are interested in helping us build open source tools for journalists, then have a look at our open jobs.