Paul Baranowski, Software Developer

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Journalism Jedi
Chief Technology Officer, Sourcefabric (May 2010 to May 2012)

Paul creates software that makes it easy for independent media in emerging democracies to use the power of digital journalism to get their voices heard.

Sourcefabric is a non-profit organization that gives organizations free access to the digital software tools they need to launch newspapers, community radio or web magazines. Because it’s available online for free, the software doesn’t require a license, something that’s called ‘open source’ in the industry. The tools can be implemented by even the smallest organization to spread its message through media websites, radio broadcasts, printed news, stories, videos and social media.

If the software is free, how does Sourcefabric make money? As a non-profit, the company receives grants and contracts from businesses to implement, train, host, maintain and support the software. For example, Swiss newspaper the Tages Woche uses it to control which articles are accessible to the public and to paid subscribers.

Paul’s CareerMash

Paul mashes journalism and technology to promote change. “One of the reasons I got into technology was to have a larger effect on the world. The Internet allows us to reach almost the entire world. We’ve seen open source software make a difference. People anywhere in the world can collaborate to get their message out.”

Sourcefabric has three main products. Airtime is its radio broadcasting software and Newscoop is a web content management system for journalists for online newspapers. Sourcefabric also offers Superdesk for managing newsrooms and content.  Similar digital media programs are not only expensive but don’t allow multiple DJs or journalists to collaborate on programs or content from different locations.

A day in the life

Paul started out programming but now focuses on overseeing the 17 developers spread across the company’s offices in Prague, Czech Republic, Berlin, Germany and Toronto. They also have satellite offices in Poland, Belarus, Romania and Guatemala. Yes, he does travel to the other locations!

“I organize the developers and work with clients to actually produce the products. I help design the features and make sure everything runs the way it’s supposed to.”

Paul focuses primarily on the web radio software, Airtime. “When we first started out we didn’t know if Airtime would be accepted or useful to anyone. We made the most minimal product we could and released it. To our surprise, we suddenly received a lot of interest. Since then, a lot of radio stations have started using Airtime and it’s beginning to get traction in the marketplace.”

Launched in February, 2011, Airtime has already made an international impact. One of its first major clients was the West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR), which now broadcasts across 13 countries in West Africa. Paul’s work helped WADR and Sourcefabric earn the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism. The award honors the creative use of new technologies to engage people in important public issues.

Newscoop  allowed over a dozen media organizations to get off the ground in Belarus, a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia.

“We also have a lot of consultants who have run large bureaus such as CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC. They consult for us on the launches of various newspapers and radio stations.”

Paul continually drafts and designs new features for the software, then works with his colleagues in Prague and Romania to implement them. As well, he trains organizations and ensures they can handle potential problems.

Roadmap

  • Paul studied computer sciences at the University of Central Florida and at a Master’s level at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • He started working as a software developer at a U.S. tech start-up before he moved to Toronto to take a team lead position at Opencola, an open source software company.
  • Paul was a senior software developer at three other companies and led a team at a company that produced software to manage electronic media records.
  • In May 2010, he joined Sourcefabric and helped launch Airtime in February 2011.

Why this job rocks

“No one has built an open source application to produce a radio broadcast in this way before so everything we do is brand new. And hopefully I’m helping to make the world a better place.”

Sourcefabric meets in Prague once a year for a get together party and meetings. At its 2011 Mediafabric conference, over 250 journalists and users attended to explore new ideas in digital journalism and open technology. Then, for the two days following the conference, developers and users met to further improve Sourcefabric’s software. The event received international media coverage.

Speed Bumps

Sourcefabric is relatively new so gaining mindshare and spreading the word – as well as getting funding - are significant challenges. The rapid success eased a lot of strain as news organizations around the world picked up the technology. Since non-profit status has to be documented, Sourcefabric monitors and reports every step of its international work. For income, it also creates new features for commercial companies.

“We join our expertise with granting institutions and media people in each country. Those three things combined help promote the freedom of speech. Without any of those components you can’t make it happen.”

Tips for success

Paul recommends students who want to change the world through technology learn programming. “It has great security and you’ll never be without a job if you’re a great programmer.”