The 25 stories about local journalism which caught your eye in 2019

From the launch of the new Facebook funded community reporter scheme to various new launches by various publishers, 2019 certainly wasn’t a quiet year in local journalism. While the industry continues to face its challenges, newsrooms haven’t been short of innovative stories to tell about what they’re doing and the difference they are making to local lives. In the first of several look backs at 2019, we round up our most-read stories from the year. Thanks, as ever, for reading!

25. Facebook-funded community reporters speak at conference

Community reporters Lisa Letcher (right) and Steven Collins (centre) speaking at the GEN Summit, alongside Facebook Strategic Partner Manager Sian Cox-Brooker (left)

Two regional journalists, who were amongst the first Facebook-funded Community News Reporters appointed in the UK, have spoken about their roles at an international media conference — and revealed how the scheme has helped them realise their dreams.

Steven Collins, a community reporter for the Worcester News and its sister titles and Lisa Letcher, a community reporter for Cornwall Live, discussed their roles in a Facebook Journalism Project masterclass on Thursday June 13 at the Global Editors Network (GEN) Summit 2019 in Athens.

Steven, 39, a former care worker, told the audience about how the Facebook partnership with the local news industry — which seeks to serve under-represented communities and increase diversity in newsrooms — has allowed him to realise his dream of becoming a journalist — something he feared would never happen due to his Asperger syndrome and age.

24. What happens when you charge for local journalism

“Rather rip my tits off and set them on fire tbh.”

That was one ExaminerLive reader’s response when we announced we were bringing in a 25p micropayment for some of our stories.

We have a reputation in Yorkshire for being tight with money but this seemed a bit extreme.

Thankfully not all ExaminerLive readers share her sentiments, as sign ups in week one of the trial have far surpassed our expectations.

23. The 6,000 Spurs fans finding their news through WhatsApp

When football.london was launched in early 2017, the recruitment of club-specific writers, the decision to launch individual club social channels and deliver our content in a way which was very clearly tailored to each respective fanbase was key to initial audience growth.

It’s a strategy which has underpinned the way Reach PLC approaches its regional sport coverage and through WhatsApp, football.london have been able to add another layer of detail to their fan-first approach.

We have several examples across Reach of centres using WhatsApp for daily news broadcasts — Nottinghamshire, Leeds and Cheshire Live to name just a few — but by launching a Tottenham Hotspur WhatsApp, this was our first attempt to trial a version specific to sport.

22. Listen to us! Newsrooms across the North unite

Newsrooms across the North have joined forces to send a powerful message to Westminster’s politicians: Stop ignoring our readers.

A year after publishers from across the North united to demand action over the region’s railways, editors from more than 30 titles have set their sights on a wider set of problems.

Under the banner ‘power up the North’, titles are sharing an open letter to London politicians, timed to coincide with the formal start of Conservative Party leadership voting, which will determine who the next prime minister is.

21. Newsquest launches data unit

Newsquest has launched its own Data Investigations Unit following a training programme through the Local News Partnership with the BBC.

The Data Investigations Unit comprises Newsquest reporters Joanna Morris and Vicky Gayle, as well as Bev Holder in a part-time role.

All three of them have completed 12 week secondments with the BBC Shared Data Unit that was launched as part of the Local News Partnership scheme which also includes the investment in 150 Local Democracy Reporters across the UK.

The Unit officially launched by editorial director Toby Granville with a training day attended by 10 reporters from around Newsquest on May 16 at its London HQ — and the aim now is to provide Editors with a dedicated potential splash each week generated by the team.

20. Reach launches audio team as podcasts grow

Reach today began the hunt for two audio experts as it seeks to build on a successful 2018 for podcast and audio audience growth.

The company’s national and regional publications launched and grew a variety of podcasts during 2018, with seven podcasts being featured in the UK’s top 100 chart.

Podcasts produced by the company include the Mirror’s Pod Save The Queen, the Liverpool Echo’s Blood Red podcast and a Brexit podcast recently launched by the Daily Express.

19. It’s part of a journalist’s job in 2019 to think about how to make money

Keith Perch says it’s not enough for newsrooms to rely on programmatic revenues — and it’s time to stop debating whether it’s right to write with audiences in mind

18. How I got to be first on the scene when 39 bodies were found in a container

As a local journalist, you have no idea what you’re going to be covering on a day to day basis.

One day can consist of residents annoyed their council hasn’t collected their bins, a new planning application for ten houses that’s been passed, and a man up at court for stealing a jewellery box.

The next day, you can be covering the biggest mass death your patch has ever seen.

That’s what happened to me, a senior reporter for the Daily Echo and Thurrock Gazette in south Essex.

17. More than 4,000 people apply for community reporter roles

After just a couple of years working on successful training projects with Facebook, the NCTJ is now a partner in the £4.5m Community News Project to help local journalism continue to thrive in a digital age.

All the partners will agree it’s been a whirlwind since the project was announced in November and the official launch at the Behind Local News conference at the end of January. Newsquest had already started a recruitment campaign and the other publishers quickly joined them in the drive to recruit talent from their communities.

The publishers have received more than 4,200 applications for 82 jobs and more than 60 per cent of the positions have already been filled. Interviewing continues for the remaining vacancies.

16. The community news reporters aiming to change local journalism

Ramazani Mwamba, from the Manchester Evening News

When Reach began recruiting for 29 reporters as part of the Facebook-funded, NCTJ-managed community reporter project, editors were overwhelmed with the response.

With almost 3,000 applications for the roles, which overtly asked for people who felt their communities were under-represented in local media to consider applying, Reach editors across the country found themselves meeting many different people with very differing views on how local media could be more representative.

Earlier this year, BehindLocalNews profiled the first of Reach’s new recruits. This week, Helen Harper, Reach’s head of communities, has followed up with those who’ve started since, asking why they went for the job and what they’ve done so far….

15. Reporter known for making an irritant of himself ‘in the best possible way’ named LDR of the year

Leigh Boobyer has been named Local Democracy Reporter of the year at the first ceremony celebrating excellence in the ground-breaking scheme.

According to judges, Leigh ‘demonstrated what a dedicated reporter can do in getting under the skin of an area that does not promise an abundance of news stories. He broke news that embarrassed the authorities, interested readers and listeners and — in the best possible way — made himself a real irritant for figures who would prefer not to have been exposed to the public gaze. He was comfortable too writing and broadcasting. We suspect he is more popular in journalistic circles than in police and council one.’

Leigh’s cuts included his investigation into police staff in Gloucestershire selling police tyres for personal financial gain, a story the local police force was keen to keep under wraps.

14. Team for BlackCountryLive launch announced

A team of Black Country natives have come together to form an ambitious digital news project in the region.

The area — formed of Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Wolverhampton — is seen as a huge opportunity for Reach PLC and the launch of Black Country Live follows new websites in Leeds, Edinburgh and Belfast.

The new venture has no shortage of Black Country nous — as the five- strong team all have strong links to one of the four boroughs.

The team works out of an office in Willenhall, in the middle of the area which has a population of more than 1 million.

13. Digital Journalism is changing lives. Here’s how

The Manchester Evening News has been named Website of the Year at the Regional Press Awards for the second time in two years. Judges praised the site for its use of ‘elegant headlines and compelling storytelling’ combined with smart use of audience engagement which, they said, helped the title to stand out from the digital crowd.

Senior editor Sarah Lester explains how the newsroom has evolved over the last few years.

12. New Aston Villa writer named at BirminghamLive

Ashley Preece

‘What Great Barr thinks of Dean Smith’ felt like the ideal way to introduce Ashley Preece to his new role as BirminghamLive’s Aston Villa correspondent.

Like Villa boss Smith, Ashley is a son of Great Barr, a claret and blue stronghold in the suburbs of Birmingham.

He made his name as a news reporter, firstly for weekly titles around Great Barr and Tamworth in 2014 and over the past 18 months on BirminghamLive/Birmingham Mail

For his first assignment he was tasked with going into the heart of Great Barr to get the inside track on the club’s promotion-winning manager.

11. The National editor named Newsquest editor of the year

Callum Baird of The National in Scotland has been named Editor of the Year in Newsquest’s annual Excellence Awards.

Callum Baird

Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Newsquest Media Group, said: “This daily newspaper, launched only four years ago, has been a phenomenal success story. Callum and his innovative team have excelled in building audiences across all platforms achieving some of the best circulation figures in the industry (only 2.5% down in recent months), over 5,000 online paying subscribers to their pay wall and a huge social media following. In November, they further strengthened the title with the launch of a new Sunday edition.”

10. Why we hired a writer to cover gaming in football

Alex Hunter from Clapham will be remembered as one of English football’s most celebrated exports of the early 21st century, with millions of supporters in the UK and many, many more worldwide. He also isn’t real.

The Career Mode protagonist of the FIFA game series for the last three years, who console players look to guide to glory through their Playstation or XBox, is actually played by Adetomiwa Edun, a Nigerian-born British actor who you may have seen appearing in Doctor Who or Disney’s 2015 adaptation of Cinderella.

But it is Hunter whose name has now become synonymous with a true footballing phenomenon. When looking at Google Trends last year, I saw more people searching for him than Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s legendary manager. Again, he isn’t real.

9. Local journalism should be a force for good — and we all play a part in that

There has never been a greater need for local journalists to understand their communities and give a voice to the voiceless, says Michael Yong, education and local news reporter at BristolLive.

Michael Yong

When I was told the Office of National Statistics (ONS) would be releasing information about the number of homeless people who died in each region, I was not surprised.

It is something I’ve known for years — that journalists working together, rather than against each other, will always lead to results.

Earlier this year, I joined the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s (TBIJ) Dying Homeless project.

I had been writing about homelessness for the past two years and was enthralled by the idea of journalists around the country feeding into a single database.

The campaign worked, but there is much more to be done.

8. How being digital first paved the way to launching a Sunday newspaper

We’re still in love with print and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we’ve not for a moment let this new launch distract us from building bigger and more engaged audiences online.

In fact, the whole project has been made possible because of our success in growing digital audiences. That growth has sustained a newsroom of real quality and scale. It’s turned our newsroom into a responsive seven-day operation. It’s created a newsroom that obsesses about what the audience wants, not what we need to fill the spaces between adverts.

Out of that has come some brilliant content and award-winning journalism. We’re reaching more people than ever before and we know more about their needs than ever before.

This gives us a blend of content that people want to read across all seven days.

7. LancsLive launch team confirmed

The latest Live site launch by Reach PLC is to be headed up by the digital editor of one of the group’s fastest-growing regional titles.

Luke Beardsworth will join Lancs Live as Publisher, from BristolLive, where he’s overseen rapid year-on-year growth and adoption of digital storytelling techniques.

Luke said: “It’s been no secret over the last five years that reporting on my home county is important to me. If there was a role that was going to pull me away from Bristol Live then it could only really have been this.

“It’s a great opportunity to build something completely new and work with a fresh team. I can’t wait to get started and show Lancashire what we’re about.”

6. Four new hires at Liverpool Echo

The Liverpool ECHO has bolstered its Sports desk with four key appointments.

Caoimhe O’Neill, Sean Bradbury, Joe Rimmer and Paul Wheelock

Sean Bradbury, formerly the ECHO’s social media editor, has been appointed Sports Audience Editor while Paul Wheelock joins the team in a newly-created Sports Audio/Visual Editor role.

Meanwhile, Caoimhe O’Neill joins the team as a Trainee Digital Football Writer and Joe Rimmer, formerly Sports Social Media Editor at the ECHO, will also become Sports Audience Editor, working closely with Sean and Paul.

5. Publishers collaborate for new podcasting project

A major new initiative to help secure the future of local journalism in the UK was unveiled today.

Reach plc and JPI Media, two of the country’s largest regional news publishers, and Entale, an innovative new podcast platform, have joined forced to launch Laudable, a project which aims to kickstart local news in audio form.

The project will benefit from a 500,000 euro grant from Google’s Digital News Initiative, which will be used to help develop new platforms for local audio, and identify ways of making podcasts and other audio projects sustainable through revenue.

Over the coming months, Laudable will set out to facilitate the creation of new audio programmes in regional newsrooms across the UK, with a particular focus on working with communities to identify ways of connecting people whose voices are not currently heard in local news.

4. What started as a look into a suspected paedophile ring evolved into something significantly bigger…

Impartial Reporter deputy editor Rodney Edwards reveals how his investigation into historic child sex abuse going back 30 years has sparked a major police probe in Northern Ireland as specialist detectives review more than 20 cases…

Impartial Reporter deputy editor Rodney Edwards

40 years unrest and protest filled the streets of Northern Ireland as the bitter conflict raged and blood was shed. The horrors of the Troubles had befallen very many and police resources were focused on tackling death and destruction, particularly in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

Outside the homes of those rural dwellers were bombs and bullets, but inside rape and sexual violence was being used as weapons against children by evil men and women.

And it didn’t stop there; the abuse in clusters across the county took place on school buses, in churches, in halls and places where children should have been safe but were not. It largely went unnoticed and when it was reported little or nothing was done by a distracted police force. Until now.

3. New Leeds United reporter for Yorkshire Evening Pos

Chesterfield reporter, Graham Smyth, is now moving to the Leeds United beat. Here he is, left, presenting Will Evans with the Derbyshire Times readers’ player of the season award at Chesterfield

The Yorkshire Evening Post has appointed Graham Smyth as the new chief football writer to spearhead coverage of Leeds United.

Graham joins from the Derbyshire Times/Sheffield Star where he has been covering Chesterfield for the last three years.

Editor Hannah Thaxter said: “He prevailed out of a competitive field in a tough interview process because of his fresh ideas and contacts and his ability to engage readers with his compelling writing and analysis across all platforms.”

2. 46 new roles created as Reach announces new Live sites

Reach announced a significant expansion of its digital network of regional news brands, committing to at least seven new launches in 2020 and hiring 46 journalists into permanent positions.

New launch areas include Sunderland, County Durham, Sheffield, North Yorkshire, Bradford, Newport and Bolton.

In addition to the already existing Leeds Live site, the new launches mean that Reach will now have a dedicated local presence across the whole of Yorkshire.

The majority of Reach’s digital regional news brands now come under the ‘Live’ brand, including both areas traditionally covered by Reach’s print titles and new areas with no previous presence.

The initiative was launched in 2015 with BelfastLive, a title which has grown to over 11 million monthly page views despite having no previous foothold in the region.

Other new launches followed, including LancsLive which in October 2019 saw 828% year on year growth and MyLondon, which launched in December 2018 and already receives over 10 million page views a month.

  1. Liverpool Echo announces major expansion of Liverpool FC team with new US website and social channels

Blood Red, the Echo’s successful podcast, is set for major expansion too

REACH PLC today announced a major expansion of its Liverpool Football Club coverage following the Reds’ European Champions League triumph.

The primary focus of the expansion will be the launch of Liverpool.com, a new LFC site dedicated to the club’s US fanbase, featuring analysis and essays from established writers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Working with leading regional brand the Liverpool ECHO, 10 new journalists will join the company to offer diverse coverage of LFC across both Liverpool.com and offerings made for British audience — the Liverpool Echo, the Blood Red Podcast, and LFC Stories.

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