Managers praise Facebook-funded community reporters' contribution to newsrooms

Nine in ten community news reporters hired by local newspapers and funded by Facebook in the past year feel they have brought something new to their newsroom.

The figure is even higher among their line managers, 96 per cent of whom think the recruits are producing fresh stories for their publications.

There are currently 77 community news reporters out of a possible 83 positions at nine UK publishers: Archant, Baylis Media, Barnsley Chronicle, JPIMedia, KM Group, Midland News Association, Newbury Weekly News, Newsquest and Reach.

Press Gazette understands the reporters are continuing to report throughout the coronavirus crisis and are not among the staff being put on furlough across the industry as they are paid for by Facebook’s £4.5m donation, not the publishers that host them.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists, which is running the scheme in partnership with Facebook, today released figures taken from a survey undertaken by all the reporters and their line managers six months after they started work.

The first community news reporter was hired in March last year. More than 4,400 people applied for the 83 roles and the scheme has so far been guaranteed for one further year.

The reporters gave an average score of 4.2 out of five when asked how well they were fitting into the newsroom, while their managers’ scored it 4.3.

All of the reporters and line managers said they thought the project was either good, very good or satisfactory. Three-quarters of reporters said it was good or very good, while 73 per cent of their managers said the same.

Newbury Weekly News editor Andy Murrill said having a community news reporter had strengthened his paper’s connection with communities in West Berkshire’s rural villages, adding that the title has introduced a dedicated villages paper in print and online for their stories.

“The CNP has undoubtedly enabled us to re-engage with a section of our community that had previously been isolated and unheard.

“We are now covering their issues and concerns in a way we have not been able to do for many years. And it is paying off in terms of growing audience and a renewed empowerment in those rural communities.”

The NCTJ said the reporters had reached an average of 112,272 page views each in their first six months, although it said it was not measuring the success of the project on this metric.

Will Gore, the NCTJ’s head of partnerships and projects, said: “We are delighted that the reporters hired as part of this innovative partnership are bringing new vantage points to newsrooms.

“During the present coronavirus crisis, they are facing particular challenges; but the networks they have built up in their communities will stand them in good stead over the coming months, as the project enters its second year.”

The NCTJ also praised the diversity of reporters that had been hired, with at least 68 per cent of those currently in post meeting one or more diversity criteria around socio-economic background, ethnicity, sexuality and education.

JPI Media editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford said: “Our new community news journalists are a real asset to our newsrooms.

“Not only do they bring an added diversity to our mix of reporters, but their new role enables us to reach into communities that we have been unable to do so as publishers for some time.

“It is really important to stress that although they bear the title community news, the stories they are telling are a mix of very local but also ones that have graced the front pages and home pages of our biggest titles.”

Newsquest editorial development director Toby Granville added that the reporters were having a “big impact”.

“We are pleased to bring on this talented crop of journalists – particularly those from a diverse background, who wouldn’t have had this kind of opportunity to come into the industry if it hadn’t been for this scheme.”

Picture: NCTJ

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