Facebook owner Meta commits £6m to Community Reporter Project

A partnership which brings new journalists into newsrooms to tell stories from under-represented communities is to expand to 100 reporters after Facebook’s owner committed almost £6m to the scheme over the next two years.

The Community News Project (CNP) has run since 2018 in partnership with Meta (formerly Facebook) Journalism Project, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and nine publisher groups across the UK.

In an announcement early today, Meta confirmed it was providing a further $8m in funding, which will ensure the scheme runs for at least another two years. So far, the company has invested $9m over three years in the project.

139 reporters have been recruited to the scheme so far, creating a pipeline of talent across the country and developing the skills and knowledge needed by the journalists of the future, with many CNP graduates stepping into permanent roles. The new funding will see the number of journalists on the programme at any one time rise from 82 to 100.

New publishers will be sought to join the scheme too.

Joanne Butcher

“The Community News Project is widely regarded as one of Meta’s most innovative and transformative projects for the regional publishing media,” said Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the National Council for the Training of Journalists. “The results speak for themselves: an increase in the number and diversity of trainees joining newsrooms, who are increasing coverage of their communities while becoming professionally qualified journalists.

“News of Meta’s longer-term commitment and even greater investment in the project comes as a real boost after such a challenging time. The nine publishers deserve great credit too for making the project a big success so that it can benefit even more publishers in the future.”

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown, Head of News Partnerships, Northern Europe, Meta said: “Following the successful launch of Facebook News in January this year, the Community News Project builds on our multi-year investments in the news ecosystem in the UK. The CNP is a great example of delivering a powerful journalism training programme in partnership with local newsrooms across the UK.

“At Meta, we like to build community, and these roles are fully focused on giving voice and telling stories that matter from underrepresented groups across the UK. Likewise, the NCTJ has been a wonderful partner in delivering an excellent programme of training, helping create the editors and publishers of tomorrow.”

The groundbreaking scheme has developed a training programme, delivered by a range of providers across the UK, for budding local journalists and has seen them embedded in newsrooms to report on communities which were previously under-served.

During the coronavirus pandemic, reporters employed on the scheme have been vital to shining a light on stories of hope and resilience emerging from these communities, which need their successes promoted and their struggles to be shared and understood by local audiences.

Since the initiative began in 2018, CNP journalists have collectively produced hundreds of front pages, with 80% of involved reporters achieving print front-page bylines or homepage leads within three months of starting in their post. They have generated thousands of stories and consistently focused on diverse communities and voices that are traditionally underrepresented in the media.

The CNP has also helped newsrooms to become more diverse, inclusive and representative of their local communities, with around two-thirds of the reporters hired in the initial program meeting one or more of the scheme’s measured diversity criteria.

What reporters on the scheme say about it

Sophie Skyring

“I can honestly say that in the few short months I have been part of the scheme the Community News Project has changed my life,” said reporter Sophie Skyring, who works for Norwich Evening News, owned by Archant.

“I always knew that writing was my dream, I always knew I was interested in human stories but I never had a way into it,” Sophie added.

“Being given the chance to be part of the team has given me clear structures to become successful and I’m immersed in an office environment where I am encouraged to learn from everyone around me. No question or query is a big ask for my editors to answer and I feel I now have endless possibilities for my future. This opportunity really is a dream come true.”

Asha Patel

“I think the project has been and is fantastic,” added Asha Patel from Reach’s Leicestershire Live.

“A lot of my news values and most of my skills have come from the project and I don’t think I would be in any newsroom if it wasn’t for the CNP.”

Facebook’s Meta Journalism Project has invested over $230 million globally in support of local news since 2019, covering the CNP, other publicly announced partnerships, accelerators, conferences, grants and event sponsorships.

The original $9M investment in the CNP spanned three years and enabled the NCTJ to oversee the recruitment of 82 trainee journalists who were then placed in the heart of local newsrooms.

An extension of the scheme this year enabled many of those who had successfully gained their Diploma in Journalism to go on to work towards their senior National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ). Other reporters moved into full-time journalism roles and were replaced with a new tranche of trainees, who have taken up the community reporting mantle in their newsrooms and begun training toward their NCTJ qualifications.

What local journalism’s industry leaders had to say

The project was launched in 2019 as a partnership between the NCTJ, Meta and nine regional news publishers: Archant; Barnsley Chronicle; Baylis Media; JPIMedia; KM Group; Midland News Association; Newbury Weekly News; Newsquest; and Reach plc.

Andy Murrill, Editor, Newbury Weekly News, called the CNP role within their newsroom “a great success.”

“Our reporter has been focussed on our previously underserved rural communities, who now have a dedicated page in the paper each week, a reporter they know they can contact with their news and the paper is now truly their champion again. The CNP position has been a success for the NWN, our trainee reporter and the communities we serve. Just as we set it out to be. I am delighted that the CNP programme will continue for another two years and I can’t wait to recruit another reporter to continue the great work.”

Helen Dalby, Reach’s Audience and Content Director in the North East and Yorkshire, said: “At a time when trusted journalism that gets right to the heart of our local communities has never mattered more to our readers, we’re proud to be part of a scheme that ensures as many communities as possible are represented in our publications at the same time as training the journalists of the future.

“Ever since it launched three years ago, the Community News Project has enabled publishers to expand, improve and add depth to our coverage of communities which were previously under-served.

“During that time, our community reporters have published some exceptional journalism, most recently shining an important light on the many ways local groups have come together by geography, faith and in all sorts of other ways to survive and thrive during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Ian Carter, editorial director of Iliffe Media, of which KM Group is a subsidiary, said: “The Community News Project is a scheme Iliffe have been involved with from the outset.

“It has allowed us to build links and generate contacts in areas we had previously found hard to reach, and enabled the voices of a wider range of people to be heard. I am delighted it is being extended and expanded.”

Emily Hewett, head of audience at Archant, said: “The CNP scheme has enabled us to identify untapped talent in our communities that may have otherwise fallen short in a more traditional recruitment process. It is a joy to work with these reporters and see them develop into thriving journalists — they really care about the communities they report on and are a credit to themselves and the programme.”

Tim Robinson, managing editor at JPIMedia, said: “JPIMedia is proud to be a partner of the Community News Project and the news of Meta’s continuing commitment to the scheme is most welcome.

“This is about giving new reporters the chance to develop their skills and chronicle events and daily lives in our communities.

“It’s absolutely essential work — and we are delighted to work with trusted providers like the NCTJ to help bring quality local journalism to life.”

Toby Granville, editorial director at Newsquest and chair of the CNP governance committee said: “This expansion of the CNP is excellent news for the industry. I’m thrilled that it means that we are now going to be able to dive even deeper into our communities — and in many cases, with journalists from a diverse background who will make a massive impact with more inclusive reporting. This is great for them, great for our communities and great for trusted local journalism.”

The first cohort of community news reporters

Community reporter vacancies will open for applications in the new year. Applicants do not need to have had any prior journalism training or experience.

The NCTJ invites publishers who would like to join the scheme to express their interest and tender by Thursday, 6 January 2022. For more information go to this link

Publishers wishing to join the project will have to demonstrate clearly how a CNP reporter would be deployed in a way that engages a currently underserved community and/or location. They will also need to demonstrate that the reporter can be offered a suitable level of support in the newsroom and in respect of their NCTJ training.

Click here to see Meta’s full announcement

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