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Incubator program calls for new-media startup applicants
File - Computer users sit near a display with a message from the Chinese police on the proper use of the internet at an internet cafe in Beijing, China, Aug. 19, 2013.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
File - Computer users sit near a display with a message from the Chinese police on the proper use of the internet at an internet cafe in Beijing, China, Aug. 19, 2013.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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BEIRUT: A call for applications was launched Friday for the upcoming 4M Mashreq program, taking place next year to develop promising media startups across the region.

The aim of 4M Mashreq is to identify and nurture nascent media startups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, in a program running from April to November 2014.

Led by Canal France International, a French agency responsible for media development assistance, in collaboration with Alt City, SKeyes and the French Institute, the program will ultimately select 12 candidates by March 2014.

The launch coincided with a miniconference about new media in the region with speakers discussing regional success stories and the latest innovations in the information sector. The event’s hashtag #4M2014 was trending on Twitter for the better part of the afternoon.

The chosen few will have the opportunity to develop their startups with five one-week incubator sessions at Alt City in Beirut, obtain customized guidance based on the specific needs of each organization, whether it is developing innovative editorial content, technical solutions or the right business model.

“It’s not that we are in a region where people can’t do this by themselves and we have to come and help them do it,” said Christophe Dehlinger, CFI’s deputy director for the Mediterranean and Asia.

“I think they can do it [on their own], the process of incubation is just taking them out of their everyday lives, and talking to them about what they are doing.”

Asked about how the jury, comprising CFI, Alt City and SKeyes, will go about assessing the ingenuity of applicants, Dehlinger said originality and content were key benchmarks.

“We will look for people who have an original concept, but that is not to say that it will be very technical. There are simple ways to do good content,” he said.

The ablest projects will be presented at the 4M Mashreq forum, a regional gathering about new media to be held in Beirut in November 2014. The conference is an offshoot of the international 4M new media summit held in Montpelier, France, every year.

In some ways the program is meant to be a build up to the forum, predicted to be one of the largest gatherings of new media initiatives in the Arab world, according to SKeyes director Ayman Mhanna.

“Infographics and data have become a real trend in the world, but much less here because of problems related to access to information and more traditional ways of presenting and consuming the news,” he said.

“At the same time there is also a disconnect from readers toward traditional ways of getting information because there’s a real level of distrust, based on the fact that either the media is totally controlled by public authorities or has little to no independence.”

Mhanna added that while there was clear potential for individual media initiatives in the Middle East, “we need to take this creativity and put it in a framework that has financial sustainability and that has the potential for expansion.”

CFI will cover transport and accommodation expenses for the selected candidates. The deadline for application is Feb. 3 with the final selection taking place in March.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 07, 2013, on page 3.
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