In a major industry initiative involving five of the biggest regional newspaper groups, the NCTJ and publishers will work together to recruit, train and qualify around 80 new journalists who will serve currently under-reported communities.
The Community News Project, which will also aim to improve diversity in UK newsrooms, will be funded by a $6m charitable donation from Facebook to the NCTJ.
The scheme is a two-year pilot project with a range of publishers, including Reach, Newsquest, JPIMedia (formerly Johnston Press) Archant and Midland News Association. Recruitment of the new journalists is expected to begin early in 2019.
The goal of project is to encourage more reporting from areas of the UK which are currently underserved, such as towns which have lost their local newspaper and beat reporters.
It will operate in a similar way to the BBC-funded Local Democracy Partnership, with the publishers employing the new reporters although they will be funded by Facebook via the NCTJ.
David Higgerson, chief audience officer at Reach, who has led discussions about the scope of the project on behalf of the publishers, said: “This project is a fantastic way of increasing the number of stories published that would otherwise not be covered.
“The funding will help us pioneer new ways of local news gathering and distributing stories to underserved communities. It will help us increase newsroom diversity and inclusion and the publishers are pleased to be working with the NCTJ to recruit, train and qualify the community journalists.”
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ added: “The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality and diversity of journalists working in our local communities.
“We are very proud to support the sustainability of quality local journalism by overseeing the recruitment of additional local news journalists from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and by ensuring they are properly trained and qualified.”
The involvement of Facebook in funding the project will be seen by some as a response to the ongoing Cairncross Review of the newspaper industry, which is looking into whether the tech giants should be forced to recompense publishers for the content they use on their platforms.
Facebook said today that it is committed to doing more to support publishers.
Sian Cox-Brooker, strategic partner manager at Facebook, said: “Having started my career at my local paper, I understand how local news really helps to inform and strengthen communities.
“Together with the NCTJ and regional news publishers, we want to help encourage more reporting in underserved areas of the UK. Our hope is that, ultimately, the Community News Project helps more people access the news that matters to them most.”
The NCTJ says that it will work with the publishers to ensure that the recruits are properly trained and qualified in their community journalism roles.
Trainees without the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism will receive training to achieve the qualification, while those who have passed the diploma will work towards a new National Qualification in Journalism for community journalists.
The project also aims to help improve the diversity of newsrooms, an issue which was highlighted in the NCTJ’s recent Journalists at Work 2018 report.
Journalists will be recruited from a range of backgrounds, with the aim of helping make newsrooms more diverse and inclusive.