Ten European media startups met in Vienna in October as part of IPI’s New Media Incubator, with the aim of boosting creative confidence and deepening their understanding of building empathy with their communities. During two and a half intensive days of workshops, pitching sessions and networking, these are some of the themes that emerged.

Innovation might not look like you think it does

All of the teams in the incubator have launched (or begun the process of launching) media products that serve the needs of their audiences. They’re already innovators, but the process of innovating has barely started.

That’s because innovation is not a one-off activity. It happens as a result of ongoing processes, which create opportunities and provide the conditions to act on them. These processes often take the forms of loops or cycles: defining a problem, gathering data, responding to that data, and iterating.

IPI’s bootcamp focused on teaching some of the most effective methods for establishing these loops, and this is something we often talk about in IPI’s innovation newsletter The Outlook (sign up here if you’re not a subscriber yet).

And being able to adapt is a crucial skill. Trainer Lena Pederson of Schibsted explained: “I never follow a set method. I have a big bag of tools and I look at the context, I look at the team and decide what makes sense to do.”

A group of New Media Incubator participants speak with trainer Fabienne Meijer. Photo: Catherine Edwards/IPI

Break down problems in order to solve them

The teams in IPI’s New Media Incubator have already carried out needs assessments, breaking down big problems (“we need to become financially sustainable”) into clearer pieces that can become clear goals (“we need to establish a recurring revenue stream” or “we need to raise €X to keep the business running for at least one year when our grants run out”).

Act like a journalist and interrogate the problem. Once you have these more specific, clearly defined problems, it’s easier to prioritize and set relevant goals and ways of measuring them. This process helps media take the leap from strategy to action.

Teams work on their feedback loop canvases. Photo: Nicky Deluggi/IPI

Curiosity can be a value-add

Early-stage newsrooms are up against numerous challenges and their larger competitors have more resources and an established reputation. One way to win the battle for attention is by paying close attention to their audience members.

Loops come into play here too. By inviting input from their audience, and most importantly offering some form of response to this – producing an article that answers a question, or adapting UX based on audience feedback – newsrooms can uncover new perspectives and make their product more useful.

“It’s a long road from people who are not used to contributing, to people who are involved. You really want to nurture the dialogue. If you only do it rarely, you won’t get there,” said trainer and audience engagement consultant Morten Ro.

Your audience’s pain points are your opportunities

One thing that unites the news organizations in IPI’s incubator cohort is a strong understanding of who their audiences are. These audiences may be defined by a geographic area, a demographic profile or a specific interest, but they have some shared needs.

Empathizing with the audience means understanding their needs, problems and behavior. And business opportunities lie at the point where audience pain points overlap with the media’s value proposition.

In other words, solve problems people care about, and show them that you’re doing it.

The founders, journalists, and product professionals participating in the New Media Incubator, along with trainers and IPI staff. Photo: Nicky Deluggi/IPI

Network and community matters

What can a cultural magazine operating in exile learn from a local newsletter, or a social media-first publication from an investigative journalism collective? A lot!

The New Media Incubator teams work in diverse contexts spanning the length and breadth of Europe. Each of them is facing a different combination of challenges, but innovation frameworks like design thinking can be applied to each of these situations.

For the first day of the bootcamp the teams worked in mixed groups before they concentrated on their own projects during the second day. Bringing together this group of  nearly 30 founders, journalists, and project managers in one place meant that creative sparks were flying, and seeds were sown for collaboration beyond the program.

What is the New Media Incubator?

The New Media Incubator is one of IPI’s innovation programs, designed to support independent media organizations in implementing processes that will help them on the path to financial and editorial sustainability.

Our 10 participating newsrooms come from across Europe from Portugal to Ukraine, serving niche and local audiences across varied formats. Over the course of the incubator, they receive training on the skills and tools needed to have the best chance of achieving sustainability for their media businesses, and they receive personalized coaching on specific projects such as developing new revenue streams or improving their processes of audience-centered design.