This article was originally published on the website of Global Alliance for Media Innovation (GAMI), WAN-IFRA’s network of stakeholders involved in research and innovation for news media. More media lab case studies are available on GAMI’s Media Innovation Mapping project page.

In 2018, we spoke to Julien Kostrèche who heads the Ouest Médialab in Nantes, France. We caught-up with him this summer to ask him how things have moved forward since our last conversation.

WAN-IFRA: Julien, it’s good to speak to you again. How have things evolved since 2018?

Kostrèche: Thanks! Between 2012 and 2018, Ouest Médialab had as its scope of action the West of France (Brittany and Pays de la Loire) and brought together regional media, communication organisations and content creators in general on the issues of digital change.

Since 2019, we have had a national scope and we focus our actions on the development, innovation and transitions of local media, no matter where they are located.

We pivoted for two main reasons:

To stay relevant in what we have to offer to local media who do not have the same means or problems as national ones.
To find a balanced business model: the local authority “Région Pays de Loire”, which had supported us during the early years, was dwindling its financial support and it was difficult to find private partners if you only operate at a regional scale.

Are you where you expected?

Yes and no.

No, because when we launched Ouest Médialab in 2012, we thought that our lab would directly initiate or even carry out collaborative R&D projects among its members. But the media have not necessarily needed to set up collective projects or preferred going solo, and they needed to experiment or follow training in the shorter term.

Yes, because we have developed a qualitative monitoring of the media sector, we are established and recognised for our training course and workshops in digital journalism and we succeeded in developing sharing and mutual aid between local media, universities and some agencies or startups namely during the Festival de l’info locale and our hackathons.

How collaborative are you with other media labs?

We mainly exchange with a few francophone media labs or media startups/accelerators. I am thinking in particular of OFF7 (Sipa Ouest-France group), La compagnie Rotative (Centre-France group), the medialab of France Télévisions or even IMI in Switzerland.

What do you see for the future of the lab and others in general?

I think we need to conduct more studies/surveys, to better understand the relationship between citizens and local news or identify any further good practices to innovate (whether at the editorial or business level). We also need to pay more attention to the new local actors and content creators (bloggers, Youtubers, streamers, Instagrammers, Tiktokers, influencers, etc.) and their relationship to the audience.

How do you measure your success?

With the number of people who register to our newsletters (2,500), number of participants at the Festival de l’info locale every year (400) or following our training and workshops (1,500 to 2,000 per year). And beyond the volume of people, by the satisfaction rate of people who participate in our actions.

And how about your staff turnover? Did you gain more employees?

We are still 4 employees within our non-profit organisation (two full-time and two part-time), and I hope to be able to create a new job position next year.

How do you finance the projects? 

It depends on the projects. Our hackathons are for example funded by the membership of the media and schools, and some subsidies from the city of Nantes. For the festival, part of the income comes from the ticketing, the other part from sponsors like the Google News Initiative, Qiota or Riccobono Imprimeurs. And for training, there are specific funds within companies. Globally, our self-financing reached 85% with contributions and services and subsidies 15% of our annual budget.

What do you wish you had done differently?

There are always things to improve, but overall, we have been able to maintain a good dynamic, by always testing/launching new actions. I have no regrets about the projects we have developed, except perhaps with NMcube, our media incubator that we set up in partnership with Audencia, the University of Nantes and another cluster. We coached 15 entrepreneurs of the media sector for a year and our programme helped them to get out of isolation, to grow or pivot. But we were unable to find private partners in the regions to sustain the system and avoid depending only on the public authorities’ subsidies.

Do you stay in touch with the projects that have gone through your labs? If so, what is your relationship with them?

Relations are good. Some become members, others become occasional users of the lab, by participating in our workshops, hackathons or events. The link is rarely broken.

Has your process or approach to innovation changed?

Not really. We always rely on methods inspired by design thinking and user-centric methods. More frequent use is made of design fiction, in particular by working with the agency Design Friction, which is a member. And necessarily, with the new national scope of the lab and the Covid period, we have digitized several events or workshops, and have frequent online conferences, using tools like Miro or Jamboard.

What outside pressures do you face, if any?

A number of actors are in crisis or difficulty in the media sector. It’s always been the case since we started but the recent rise in the cost of raw materials, paper in particular, aggravates the situation. On the side of the public authorities, there is often a tendency to decrease subsidies, or to only support projects at launch, and not the operation of the lab. Fortunately, Nantes Métropole has supported us from the beginning and they were always there when we needed them.

Are there new partners?

Yes. With the Festival de l’info locale in particular, we have developed around 30 new partnerships. Our main private partner today is the Google News Initiative.

What has been the impact of Covid on the lab (have you downsized / how are events handled / the amount of work done face to face)?

In think like many similar initiatives, partial unemployment at the start then progressive digitization of our services.

Biggest hits? Biggest failures? What did you learn from these?

Success: the Festival de l’info locale, which has established itself in less than 5 years as a B2B event of reference for the sector.

Failure: I don’t want to appear lacking in modesty, but I don’t see any big failures. Sometimes we have not been able to sustain some of our initiatives, like our media incubator. Other times, we terminated a project too soon. For example, in 2016, we launched a training course on virtual reality and 360-degree video which never started. Despite the interest about the subject, we were probably too far ahead of the maturity of this technology and the real opportunities for media professionals. But as a lab, our role is also to be a little out of phase and it’s normal to crash from time to time. After all, it would be nice to have the luxury of crashing a little more often

Why do you think innovation in a city-based cluster is the way to go?

I don’t know if this is the only way to go, but I’m certain that this allows us to be rooted in reality. We have direct contact with the local media and innovative players in our territory, and this continues to feed our thinking and plans, keeping a real anchor and awareness of the realities of the media sector.


By Erin Wilson, Stephen Fozard and John Mills

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