Innovative new French publication offers antidote to high-speed news

New online publication L’imprevu, winner of a French prize for media innovation, has time at the heart of its editorial mandate: giving its audience time to read in-depth and explanatory stories, and allowing journalists time to create them. As one of many new online publications that launched in France over the last two years, it offers a unique, forward-thinking approach to journalistic storytelling.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 27, 2016

“In the media everything seems to be a priority nowadays. As consumers of information, and as journalists we’re tired of that,” Clémence Lerondeau, Communications Officer of L’imprevu told the World Editors Forum, when we visited their new office in Paris. Her four colleagues, who founded the new publication worked together at OWNI, a French data-driven website dedicated to the digital sphere and new social issues.

All under-30, the journalists named l’Imprevu after the Parisian café where they debated long hours about the state of the media – where information is everywhere, instantaneous and often oppressive – to finally decide there was a need to “ease off”.

Practising in-depth journalism, the journalists revisit places and events that people may have forgotten about to find out how they were affected at the time and what consequences the events may still have today. They take time to explain what happened, regardless of how much time that takes, or the length of the final story.

The startup’s strategy is to be editorially and financially independent. Ad-free, the platform depends on subscribers and uses a freemium model. To make that work, the publication needs to maintain a close relationship with their readers. “To engage people, we are talking to them, telling them the truth, and trying to give them quality and exclusive content,” said Lerondeau.

The publication has three types of stories:

Droit de suite – (Eng: right away) In this section, journalists take the time to go back to news events that have been forgotten about, and explain what happened to the people since and what the situation is like now. Its in-depth journalism with a human approach.

Fil rouge – (Eng: common theme) This, data journalism driven space provides answers to basic questions on big themes that are frequently used in media and politics. It’s about recurring news debates, such as social housing and video surveillance, rather than current events. Its explanatory journalism with an educational, informative approach.

Affaires a suivre – (Eng: stories to follow) How to manage overcrowding in French prisons? How does 1% of the French population manage to live without a bank account? These are investigative stories that mainstream media doesn’t always cover because the stories are either too complex, or there is not enough time and resources to develop and publish.

Subscribers receive exclusive content in a members-only newsletter, and have access to all stories behind the paywall, in addition to the selection of content that is freely available online. Moreover, they benefit from exclusive functionalities, such as commenting, voting for follow-up stories and the option to propose articles – anonymously or not. This helps the publication make content more relevant.

Financially, it means being transparent. How readers’ money is spent is carefully described on the website. Additional income comes from funds, providing trainings, and some prize-money from winning the French media innovation prize in March this year. “It’s really important for us to be transparent, human and accessible,” Lerondeau said.

In terms of readership, the publication aims to reach those people who say ‘the media doesn’t talk about this or that story’, targeting digital natives who like to sit back and take time to consume the news. That’s why every article indicates the reading time, and users can select stories accordingly; less than five minutes, between five and ten minutes, or more than 15 minutes. While L’Imprevu currently has around 120 subscribers, the aim is to have 5,000 paying subscribers three years from now.

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