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An ambitious Community News Project has been funded by Facebook, in a bid to enhance local journalism in the UK. In the era of... Facebook launches £4.5m Community News Project to support local journalism

An ambitious Community News Project has been funded by Facebook, in a bid to enhance local journalism in the UK.

In the era of ‘Fake News’ allegations, and digital media casting a shadow over print, the social media giant has been regarded as an ‘enemy’ of journalism by some. With many now flocking to Facebook to digest their news, newspapers have suffered. In fact, 40 UK local papers were lost in 2017 alone.

Now, however, Facebook has made a £4.5 million ($6 million) ‘charitable donation’ to help publishers recruit and train around 80 local journalists. This is being done to encourage more reporting from towns that have lost their newspapers and reporters.

The project is being launched in partnership with top publishers including Reach, Newsquest, JPIMedia, Archant and the Midland News Association. They are working with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which will deliver the training.

It is understood that the money will be divided among the publishers, so that they can employ the trainee ‘community journalists’. The reporters will then be placed at the heart of local newsrooms on a two-year scheme. The NCTJ say it will ‘increase the creation, consumption and distribution of reliable and relevant community news’.

Facebook is investing in quality local journalism. Credit: Public Domain

Facebook is investing in quality local journalism. Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Do publishers think it will work?

Scores of journalists and publishers have taken to social media to express their reactions. On the whole, the general mood has been one of positivity and excitement.

Karyn Fleeting, head of audience at Reach PLC, welcomes the move. She said: “As publishers, we already work closely with Facebook, so this collaboration is a logical next step.

“Community news is shared widely on Facebook, on pages and in community groups, and this collaboration will help us reach communities which don’t currently benefit from in-depth community news.

“We think it will be good for journalism, good for our newsrooms and good for the local communities we serve.”

Keith Harrison, editorial director of the Midland News Association and Editor of the Express & Star, agrees. He believes the collaboration with Facebook will enhance service to readers, by reaching out to communities that have important stories to tell.

Meanwhile, Laura Adams, Content Director at Archant, is also excited to be part of the initiative. Adams believes it ‘clearly aligns’ with their commitment to local communities and ‘mission to provide top-quality journalism’.

“We also look forward to welcoming ambitious community journalists from a diverse set of backgrounds into our newsrooms,” she added.

“They will undoubtedly make a valuable contribution in developing our community engagement and multimedia content offering.”

What else is Facebook doing to save local journalism?

This latest news comes following the 2017 launch of the Facebook Journalism Project. It was set up in response to criticism around Facebook’s role in being a platform for so-called ‘Fake News’.

The Verge considers the Community News Project to be part of a ‘two-pronged attack’. It is hoped that while the project promotes the production of “quality journalism”, the social network’s moderation teams will also reduce and tackle fake and sensationalist content through algorithm and checking changes. Adverts are also being increasingly scrutinised after raised concerns in recent years.

Nick Wrenn, Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships, concurs that local newspapers play ‘a vital role’. Not only do they holding local councils and institutions to account, he says, they also keep people up-to-date with community events.

In a statement, he said: “We’re excited about the opportunity to help more local news reach more people through the Community News Project.

“We hope it can play a small part in boosting community engagement in towns, cities and counties across the UK, and open up new opportunities for the next generation of journalistic talent.”

When will the Community News Project begin?

It is understood that the NCTJ and publishers will focus on finding trainees from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. This is ‘designed to reflect the rich diversity of the local communities they’ll serve’.

Project organisers will be heading to schools, universities and events to discuss the project. They hope to encourage more young people to consider a career in journalism. The official applications process will open early 2019.

For further information, and to read the launch statement in full, click here.