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Philly Newsrooms Innovating with Project Liberty Digital Incubators

The Knight Foundation does it again. This time in Philadephia, where they’ve granted $345,000 to the Project Liberty Digital Incubator, which puts startups in the Interstate General Media newsrooms — The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

This is the second time the Knight Foundation has supported the program, which launched in 2011. Which means it’s working and goes to show that big media companies can adapt. Who knew? IGM wasn’t around for the launch of the incubator program, but they’ve been involved since the early stages and their commitment to the program has helped it’s success. 

Apart from free office space, start ups get to work with decision makers in the newsroom and have Drexel University engineering students at their disposal. The results are tangible, like “inaugural incubator resident” ElectNext, which has their module on Philly.com to parse election data. Another, advertising platform tapCLIQ, has been integrated with Philly.com’s mobile app and is — wait for it — actually drawing advertisers. Big ones, too. 

For John Bracken, director of media innovation for the Knight Foundation, it’s a no brainer: 

As investors in the early stages of start ups, there’s a greater liklihood of success when you have support and help with basic back office things so purely from an investor stand point, thats the value of an incubator. Working with the newsroom, it’s a double bottom line win for us. For an industry that’s facing a lot of challenges — to innovate in a newsroom, sometimes you have to get outside of the newsroom.

The incubators show that you can’t just talk about innovating and adapting. News organizations need to act. Bracken notes:

One of the shifts that happened [with IGM’s moving the headquarters into Center City] is that the company has shifted right to the middle of the newsroom. Journalists have to walk past the nerds and entrepreneurs hacking away to get to the bathroom. Part of the reason that IGM is maintaining relationships with them after the incubator, and it’s mostly after the incubator, is that there’s this physical engagement happening. 

Bracken says that proves the start up company and “develops IGM’s ability to innovate and drive into the future.” 

Double bottom line wins all around. Project Liberty is now sorting through the fourth round of applications from start-ups, which closes August 30th.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next big thing in Philly media. Things things are getting a lot more interesting in the City of Brotherly Love. 

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