What is Stars4Media and why participate?

The context behind Stars4Media

European news media face an unprecedented crisis. It is, first of all, a crisis of identity: ever since digital platforms have entered the media field as new gatekeepers, traditional news media have struggled to re-position themselves in a digital-first media landscape. Financial resources and trust have both kept declining ever since, with worrying trends at play.

News media are both businesses and players of a democratic arena: whatever the trajectory of change looks like in the information landscape, political and societal effects take place.

The European Commission, already in the previous mandate, has addressed directly the crisis of the news media by starting to channel resources towards media innovation. Among other actions, the Stars4Media Pilot Project was launched, responding to a proposal voted by the European Parliament in 2018

 

Stars4Media is a pilot programme for European media to facilitate cooperation between media professionals (“rising stars”) with the goal of accelerating media innovation and cross-border coverage in Europe. It aims at enhancing media innovation through skill-building activities from different EU countries around specific Initiatives, to test ideas and technologies, introduce new business models and produce new types of contents.

The Stars4Media training programme is implemented by a Consortium formed of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Europe’s MediaLab (Fondation EURACTIV), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), with the co-funding of the European Commission.

 

What are the benefits?

In the first edition of Stars4Media, media professionals had the chance to: 

  • cooperate with another European media
  • gain practical skills: quality reporting, data journalism, fact-checking, AI and translation technologies, marketing
  • be part of an innovative community of media professionals in Europe

Media outlets managed to: 

  • grow their network with the best innovative media companies in Europe
  • test ideas, develop new products and new business models and innovate
  • develop and motivate their staff and future management

Stars4Media Initiatives

The Stars4Media ‘Initiatives’ are innovative ideas developed by small cross-border and cross-disciplinary teams of media professionals around several thematic waves.
During the Stars4Media First Edition, Initiatives were proposed around the following waves: DATA for media, TRUST in media, and Media response to Coronavirus.

 

                                                                                      Image 1: Highlights Stars4Media First Edition

Out of the 21 supported initiatives, 5 were awarded the Stars4Media Prizes!

How to create a good Proposal for Initiative?

3.1 How to read the Call for Initiatives?

The Call for Initiatives is published on the Stars4Media website and on the websites of the project partners at the beginning of the application period. The Call highlights some key aspects:
1 – Priorities – Stars4Media is an exchange and training programme aiming at fostering innovation in media. To respond to the Call for Initiatives, you should come up with an idea that can possibly generate innovation through an exchange, while enhancing the competences and skills of the team members involved. 

2 – Deadline – please pay close attention to the application deadline(s): there are two windows of opportunity to present your proposal: 1st of May and 1st of July 2021. 

3 – Thematic Waves – these are key topics that address the needs and challenges that the media sector is currently facing. The Stars4Media initiatives should be grouped around these proposed thematic waves:

1) Journalism, Trust, and Participation; 

2) Media Technology and Marketing; 

3) Other innovations.

Additional topics could be accepted if their relevance is clearly presented by the applicant.

 

3.2. How to find a partner? And who is a good partner?

Stars4Media supports collaboration between teams of media professionals with complementary skills, from a minimum of two different media organisations, based in different EU countries, working together on a collaborative Initiative. Ideally, you could work on a new initiative with a partner that you/your media organisation has already worked with in the past, leveraging existing connections and past successful experience. 

Finding a new partner can be a lengthy process. We encourage reaching out to the media organisations and/or professionals of your interest at an early stage, to touch base with a potential partner. Additionally, to facilitate the process, we suggest: 

  • Join the Stars4Media community on LinkedIn, which gathers a pool of professionals interested in the programme
  • Reach out to the Consortium partners, presenting a brief description of the profile of partners that you are interested in. Contact details can be found at the end of this document
  • Considering the list of media that expressed interest in Stars4Media First Edition (Image 2)

Image 2: List of media that expressed interest in Stars4Media First Edition

3.3. How to write a good proposal? 

To benefit from the Stars4Media support, one has to submit a successful Proposal for Initiative. As a general rule, a Proposal for Initiative should be drafted by a small cross-border and cross-disciplinary team of media professionals, present clear objectives and aim at fostering innovation in the media sector (by proposing a new service, content, tool, approach, etc). Each initiative shall be composed of media professionals from 2 or more different media organisations and/or freelancers based in different EU countries. Only EU residents, of any nationality, can be financially supported by the programme. 

Before submitting a Proposal for Initiative, please make sure to read carefully the Call for InitiativesIn the Call for Initiatives, you will find a Proposal for Initiative form

The interested media professionals have the option to a) submit a draft proposal or b) submit directly a developed “Proposal for Initiative”.

We strongly encourage interested applicants to first send us a draft proposal, before submitting a full proposal. Draft ideas should be submitted in the early stage of the application process, providing basic information about the media professional(s) interested in the programme, their media organisation, media affiliation or freelance profile, and a summary of the idea. This draft proposal will then be assessed by the Stars4Media team, and coached by the Stars4Media experts towards a qualitative Proposal for Initiative.

The Proposal for Initiatives shall cover the following aspects:

1)      The need addressed by the Initiative and the plan of action (timeline);

2)      Outcomes and sustainability;

3)      Innovation (content/business/tech);

4)      Cooperation and partnership.

 

Wondering what we consider as Innovation?
You can check the Innovation checklist of this Handbook for more details.   

                                                                  

How to face challenges related to this training programme?

There are several challenges that any applicant might need to face throughout the whole process of Stars4Media, from the selection to the final evaluation. These range from overarching challenges that may ask applicants’ attention from day 1 to the end, to occasional challenges that applicants may encounter in the day-to-day implementation of a complex initiative that involves several professionals across different countries.

  • Cultural challenges: these are overarching challenges and they surely require continuous efforts from all professionals involved. 

One of the reasons why Stars4Media was launched is the lack of cross-border cooperation between European media organisations. This might be the result of a lack of time and resources within news media for international projects, of technical difficulties but also of obvious cultural barriers. It is naturally easier to engage in complex projects with like-minded professionals with similar backgrounds, approaches, workflows, expectations, languages etc.

The comfort zone of working only within a national dimension might ensure media professionals efficient development of workflows but, at the same time, can prevent them from acquiring skills and competencies that only an international exchange can provide

Working with different cultures can be challenging but it will also open the process of producing new content, technologies or services to different points of view, making the final results richer and possibly more valuable reach-wise.

 

  • Linguistic challenges: A typical Stars4Media initiative is a short project (maximum 4 months), usually requiring the applicants to invest their time while also carrying out their business as usual

This means that time is a constraint and obviously communication between teams from different countries should not be slowed down by linguistic issues. Applicants need to be sure their linguistic skills allow them to smoothly work with the other teams and to communicate efficiently with the Stars4Media team (including in the selection and evaluation phases). The Stars4Media team is multilingual and language courses can be covered by the project funding. 

 

  • Administrative challenges: The administration should be just a task and not a challenge. However, some part of your time in a Stars4Media initiative will be dedicated to administration, and problems might arise when time is limited, or unexpected problems arise. 

This is of course not the most inspiring aspect of the project, but it is necessary that you are on top of it, to ensure you and your initiative members receive the money instalments, and to facilitate all communication with us. The Stars4Media executive team will guide you through every step, what is required from you (especially if you are team/initiative leader) is the following:

  • Read carefully all the emails from the executive team (this is an important point: emails are overwhelming, we know, but the better you read our emails, the less you will receive).
  • Respect deadlines: Stars4Media is a complex machine, many partners and different organisations are involved. In order to support you and allow you to receive the money instalment on time and proceed with your work, we kindly ask you to respect the deadlines. 
  • Think of a person in the team that can keep track of the admin procedure and be our contact point. This will allow you to be on top of your admin, and it will allow us easy communication with you.

 

  • Unexpected challenges: what we learned from the first edition of Stars4Media is that flexibility is key for the success of such a project. This applies to the whole project, as well as to any single initiative. The Coronavirus outbreak was a massive unexpected challenge that nobody could foresee and its impact on the project was huge. Nevertheless, thanks to the commitment and resilience of the Stars4Media team and the participants, the limitations created by this new reality did not jeopardize the creative potential of the project. Allowing the creation of innovative initiatives in the media sector through the cross-border exchange of skills and competences, has remained a cornerstone also in a new reality where remote work has become the norm. While any structural change brings both benefits and obstacles, Stars4Media managed to prioritize the benefits and allow the beneficiaries, in most cases, to make full use of the advantages of the new set-up. 

From the design of an innovation programme, to the implementation of a single specific initiative, having a flexible mindset is key for delivering the expected results while cooperating with partners in other EU countries, with time restraints and challenging goals.

Lessons learned from the evaluation - participants’ perspective

An important part of your Stars4Media experience will be the evaluation of your initiative. First of all, do not confuse evaluation with selection. The selection process takes place in the early phases of Stars4Media. This is a competitive phase: there is a limited number of places and only a limited percentage of applicants will get a place.

This selection process is coordinated by the executive team of Stars4Media with the involvement of a distinguished jury made of media experts with different backgrounds and competences.

The evaluation process is determining which  successful initiatives might be awarded a Prize. However, all initiatives that will be selected to take part in Stars4Media are already ‘winners’, having passed a selective jury evaluation. The evaluation of selected proposals takes place in 2 different moments:

Midterm evaluation: an online survey taking place in the middle of your Initiative and addressing initiative leaders. The goal is to track the progress of the initiative, identify potential obstacles, highlight successful partial results, ensure communication of key information to the Executive Team.

 Final evaluation:  an online survey taking place after the end of your Initiative and addressing all initiative leaders. 

The goal of these two surveys is to assess the success of the initiative across several criteria in line with the criteria for selection, based on the evidence of the results achieved and on the description of the main aspects of the collaborative exchange (overall success, lessons learned/skills gained, cross-border cooperation, impact/innovation, sustainability).

All initiatives will be evaluated by the executive teams with scores and comments, and eventually the jury chairs will be involved to award a limited number of initiatives with prizes, in light of the outstanding results achieved.

Useful links and contact details

Do you have an innovative idea and don’t know where to start? Drop us a line at info@stars4media.eu

Watch and share the Stars4Media videos:

Key contacts:

 

For Project Management related matters:
Catalina Dumbraveanu
catalina.dumbraveanu@vub.be
Media Innovation Project Manager

 

For Communication matters:
Nathalie Bargues
nathalie.bargues@euractiv.com
Projects and Communications Manager at Europe’s MediaLab

 

EFJ contact person:
Renate Schroeder, Director, European Federation of Journalists

renate.schroeder@ifj.org

 

WAN-IFRA contact person:
Stephen Fozard, Project Director, Global Alliance for Media Innovation (GAMI), WAN-IFRA

stephen.fozard@wan-ifra.org