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February 15, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:49am

Meta investment in UK community journalists reaches £12.7m with two-year expansion

By Bron Maher

Update 15 February 2022:

The NCTJ has announced 14 new publishers are joining the Community News Project, creating 18 reporter roles, as a result of the £6m funding from Facebook owner Meta announced at the end of 2021.

The growth takes the scheme to 23 publishers employing journalists reporting on 100 “previously underserved” communities around the UK. Tindle Newspapers is the most noteworthy of the new employers, taking on four new trainee journalists, while Press and Journal publisher DC Thomson will better cover the areas of Fort William, Lochaber and Skye, and the Western Isles.

The new publishers/roles are:

Original story 2 December 2021:

Meta, the tech giant behind Facebook, is putting an additional £5.9m into its Community News Project collaboration in the UK over the next two years.

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The company said that as well as the funding, it would be adding 18 new trainee places to the scheme, bringing the total number to 100. It has not yet been decided what locations the new roles will serve as it depends on which publishers succeed in the upcoming tender process.

The new funding is in addition to the £4.5m first donated to the project by Facebook and a further £2.25m top-up in late 2020, taking it to a total of £12.65m.

The Community News Project is a collaboration between Meta, the National Council for the Training of Journalists, and local publishers throughout the UK that sees the tech giant pay for reporters' salaries and training. It aims to cultivate fresh and diverse journalistic talent among communities without adequate coverage while helping the reporters receive an NCTJ qualification.

Press Gazette reported in 2019 that more than 4,400 people had applied for the first 83 roles funded by the social media behemoth — approximately 53 applicants for each job.

Not limited to rural locales, the project also aims to place reporters in under-covered urban areas. In January 2019, Press Gazette reported that community reporter locations included Hackney and the whole of Newcastle, which was allotted two new journalists.

In a blog post on Thursday, Meta’s blog post claimed that since the CNP launched, its “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”.

The Community News Project came amid concern that the tech giants were profiting from journalists’ work without paying for it. Among the critics of the new status quo were billionaire philanthropist George Soros and Press Gazette, which launched its “Duopoly” campaign in 2017 to pursue “a fairer deal between news publishers and the digital giants – one which fairly rewards the creators of the content on which these platforms rely”.

The initial programme saw Reach take on 28 community news reporters, Newsquest 23, JPI Media with 19, Archant with four and Midlands News Association with three.

The Kent Messenger Group hosted two reporters while the Maidenhead Advertiser, Barnsley Chronicle and Newbury Weekly News each had one.

Andy Murrill, editor of the Newbury Weekly News in Berkshire, said his paper’s reporter “has been focussed on 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”.

Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, said: “News of Meta’s longer-term commitment and even greater investment in the project comes as a real boost after such a challenging time.”

Butcher also praised the scheme's diversity, saying at least 68% of the reporters hired in the initial programme met at least one of several diversity criteria.

Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville, who is also 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.”

Helen Dalby, Reach's audience and content director in the North East and Yorkshire, praised the scheme for helping publishers "to expand, improve and add depth to our coverage of communities which were previously under-served" while Archant's head of audience Emily Hewett said it had helped them to "identify untapped talent in our communities that may have otherwise fallen short in a more traditional recruitment process".

Picture: Meta

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