MAS: Nice-Matin’s new innovation space

This article was originally published on Méta-Media, as part of an editorial partnership between Méta-Media and WAN-IFRA. The article was written by Alexandre Bouniol, France Télévisions, MediaLab.

In 2015, Nice-Matin embarked on a profound digital transformation. Faced with major economic difficulties, the daily newspaper opted for a 180-degree turn to establish itself as an innovative media in its own right. Its latest initiative: MAS, the newspaper’s innovation space, launched last January.

We had the opportunity to talk with Damien Allemand, head of digital services at Nice-Matin and the MAS initiative, who outlined the strategy, goals and projects of this brand new place for innovation.

Four development areas

Launched in January 2019, MAS is headed by the project manager Marjorie Roubaud-Lubrano, who is accompanied by two consultants. But all of Nice-Matin’s departments are also involved in different degrees, says Damien Allemand, who emphasises the importance of good internal communication “to make sure MAS is not seen as a competing space, and to familiarise the rest of the personnel with it so that they visit and make use of the place. It’s important that the place is on the way for people when they go to the office, that it’s not a closed space […] as well as bringing in people from outside.”

It’s development is based on four strategic areas:

  • Incubation of startups (The MAS startup), which aims to be “a business and success accelerator for local entrepreneurs and businesses”, as described by the CEO of the group Jean-Marc Pastorino.
  • Incubation of emerging medias (The MAS media) to “invent the journalists of tomorrow”.
  • The MAS events to organise conferences on innovation.
  • The MAS training to train local businesses in digital transformation and communication. The training is provided by Nice-Matin’s specialists and external speakers.

Double incubation, mutual benefits

During the first years of MAS, Nice-Matin welcomed six startups within its premises: Dibster, Bee shary, Deserve Mi, Time N’ Joy, Ready Park et Yöma Family. These startups do not develop technical innovations, but offer various services. For Damien Allemand, even if the firms do not have media activities as such, “the startups are perfectly coherent with the editorial line of our subscriptions offer”, with “the reader at the centre of the subscription offer, or on solutions journalism that brings concrete solutions to people’s problems.” For example, Dibster offers for people who have had a flight cancelled or delayed to handle administrative procedures to obtain compensation.

The newspaper provides for free its premises for the companies, as well as the possibility to “beta test” their services with the community of readers as soon as they are viable. The startups promote working methods based on horizontality, agility and mutual support, which can offer new perspectives to daily work within the newspaper.

Nice-Matin has also hosted two media in its incubator this year: Switch On Paper, a site that explains news through the prism of contemporary art, and Radio Nizza, which produces local news in Italian through its blog and podcast. Radio Nizza, for example, lets the newspaper connect with a community who it wouldn’t otherwise reach (Italians in Nice), and invest in the field of podcasting, where Nice-Matin would like to engage more in the future. Damien Allemand speaks even of a “kind of Nice-Matin in Italian”, underlining even more the complementary and mutual benefits these media can offer to each other.

An economic model to develop

In order to finance this new innovation space, Nice-Matin relies on events and training sections of MAS that generate revenues, but also on grants. Some of these are private, through different funds such as those dedicated to the presse by Google, and some public, granted by the French Ministry of Culture. These funds are absolutely necessary for innovation, underlines Damien Allemand: “if I didn’t have all these funds, I would never have been able to lead all these projects”. It also the support fund for emergence and innovation in the press that permitted the launching of MAS.

MAS is also economically significant for the newspaper. For Damien Allemand, “it’s a clear diversification” of the group’s activities. This will ultimately allow the discovery of a viable business model:

“It’s necessary to diversify. So far no one has unlocked the business model. The key will be a combination of solutions which, when put together, will sustain Nice-Matin. The MAS is part of this combination of solutions that will turn around Nice-Matin.” – Damien Allemand

Permanent innovation

The launch of the innovation space is part of a broader framework of innovation of the group. Since 2015, Nice-Matin has launched a multitude of disruptive projects:

  • A section dedicated to solutions journalism with #MonJournal, a section where subscribers choose the topics for the newsroom to tackle.
  • A chatbot on local news in 2017
  • Kids-Matin, a news media for under 13 year olds; a community included since the beginning of the project in a crowdfunding campaign.

The newspaper plans to continue on this path, and is planning “background works” in 2019, starting with the redesign of the website and the subscriber offer.

“We are trying to build a Netflix for local news”, reveals Damien Allemand.

Another project launched in parallel this year is the arrival of a robot journalist in the daily’s offices, made possible by funding from Google. It will be a cornerstone of content automatisation, notably for content with little added value such as the weather, allowing journalists to spend more time on other work. An additional task for the robot is data processing; it will be able to alert journalists by highlighting relevant information.

“The goal will be to liberate journalists’ time so they can go seek higher quality information.” – Damien Allemand

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