Regional press group Newsquest is offering offering cash incentives to journalists who can make the most use of “unpaid community content”.
Under the scheme, pictures count for 75 per cent of points awarded versus words which count for 25 per cent. Three prizes are available of £4,000, £3,000 and £2,000.
The publisher is also offering prizes of £1,500 for the most-shared and fastest-growing local news brands on Facebook.
The competition information was distributed to staff by chief executive Henry Faure Walker (pictured) who said: “Whilst we believe that professional journalism is the bedrock of our business, we also believe that local news brands have a great opportunity to use community content to increase engagement with new and existing readers.”
The National Union of Journalists has voiced concern over the scheme and cited research which showed that Newsquest had shed more editorial staff, 139 posts, over the previous 17 months than any other local press publisher. It said: “Over the past few years [Newsquest] has systematically sacked most of its photographers.”
Newsquest group NUJ coordinator Chris Morley said: “Our members are aghast at this plan to pit colleagues against each other in a race to the bottom to fill pages and websites with material whose only criteria for publication seems to be that it is free.
“There is not one mention of the importance of quality or making sure content is appropriate and suitable. It’s only about filling space as cheaply as possible.
“Members are appalled at this shabby scheme and want nothing to do with it. In fact one member said he would wear it as a badge of pride if his centre was bottom in the free copy league table.”
A Newsquest spokesperson said: “Once again the NUJ has twisted the facts to suit its own propaganda PR machine.
“Local newspapers have been publishing content from the community for decades – readers’ letters, submitted photos, grass roots sports reports, updates submitted by local clubs and charities.
“Professional journalism rightly continues to be the bedrock of local newspapers, content from the local community complements this, and has done so for years.
“For the NUJ to say that community content doesn’t have a place in local newspapers is just plain wrong and shows how out of touch they are.”