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Facebook reporters ‘helping newsrooms connect with communities’

Will GoreMost newspapers employing Facebook-funded community reporters believe they have helped their newsrooms engage with under-served communities, research has found.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists has unveiled the results of a study on the community news project, which currently employs 77 journalists at regional press titles to cover under-represented areas.

According to the research, 96pc of line managers in regional newsrooms agreed the reporters had brought “something new” to their publications after six months in post, including engaging with under-served communities and unearthing new stories.

More than two-thirds of the reporters also meet one or more diversity criteria being measured – notably around socio-economic background, ethnicity, sexuality and education – with all of those interviewed saying they were finding the NCTJ-administered partnership either “very good, good or satisfactory”.

Asked how well the reporters were fitting into the newsroom on a scale of one to five – with five being the most positive response – the average score given by line managers was 4.3 and 4.2 by the reporters.

The average number of monthly page views was 112,272 per reporter at the six-month stage, while 80pc had written front page stories in print or homepage leads online within their first three months in post.

The figures follow the recent publication by the NCTJ of a short report by Mark Spilsbury, who has been commissioned to carry out an independent evaluation of the project throughout its two-year pilot.

Mark found the project had resulted in coverage of more “good news” stories, while several publishers had also amended recruitment practices in order to attract a more diverse range of candidates.

Will Gore, pictured, 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.”

Sian Cox-Brooker, strategic partner manager at Facebook, added: “Diversity is a key focus of the community news project so it’s wonderful to see the new perspectives the reporters are bringing to newspapers across the country.

“It’s more important than ever that communities have access to local, relevant and trusted news so it’s heartening to see the impact the reporters are having.”

Nine regional news publishers – Archant, Baylis Media, Barnsley Chronicle, JPIMedia, KM Group, Midland News Association, Newbury Weekly News, Newsquest and Reach plc – are involved in the scheme.

Newbury Weekly News editor Andy Murrill added: “Having a CNP reporter covering the isolated rural villages in West Berkshire has really helped us to strengthen our connection with those communities.

“We now have a dedicated villages page in the paper each week and a new villages section on our website. 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.”

Laura Adams, Archant’s content director for London, Kent, Herts & Cambs and Southwest Newspapers, added: “It is great to see that the community reporters are making their mark – not just in their communities but also in their newsrooms.

“We are so glad to be seeing talented individuals develop into highly-skilled journalists: they are a true asset.”

And Toby Granville, editorial development director at Newsquest, said: “The Facebook community reporters are making a big impact in our newsrooms.

“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.”


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  • April 8, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    This back slapping appears to be celebrating an ability to lift the public’s own social media content and photos from their own social media posts -Facebook-and passing it off as news, or “ unearthing new stories” as it was described in the article.
    Sorry, but that’s not journalistic community reportage, it’s no different to the nosy neighbour listening in on a conversation and passing what they’ve heard onto others. It could be why so many inaccuracies and errors appear in online posts which are picked up by the public and ridiculed.

    If this is really what is defined as engaging with communities nowadays then it’s no wonder so many online comments are derisory and once essential local papers sell so few copies.
    No hyper local independent community publishers that I am aware of have Facebook reporters within their ranks, just professional journalists who engage with the public by living,working and talking to the people directly, real people ,not names on a FB post.

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  • April 8, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    And that is exactly the reason why dailies and weeklies from the main centres are failing in tandem with the huge increase in popularity of hyper local publications and online community news sites.
    Top and tailing someone else’s Facebook content, posting it as community news and seeing it as something worth celebrating really does signal how lost and disengaged many of these publications are, even if those doing the back patting try to convince themselves otherwise.

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  • April 8, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    I am old enough to remember when county weeklies had many many “dedicated villages pages in the paper each week” as this was the true heart of the community and where a considerable number of stories originated from and where thousands of copies of the paper sold each week. A time when publishers provided first class news and ‘essential information’ from all parts of the titles territory supplied by a correspondent in each location and where, unlike now, anything more than a stones throw from the head office wasn’t forgotten about.
    The quote about reconnecting with “…a section of our community that had previously been isolated and unheard” is most ironic as this has happened as a result of publishers closing district offices and removing chief reporters from the towns then expecting local folk to not walk away.It now appears they are trying to get them back by using FB as the cost free method to do so.

    It’s a funny old game innit

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  • April 8, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    Goodness me”village correspondents”
    A dedicated team of well respected key members of the local communities feeding in snippets of news along with club notes and general information week after week and attracting pretty much the whole of the villages or suburbs buying the paper keen to read their latest local news, These were the forerunners of ‘citizen journalists’ and played a vital part in truly ‘essential information ‘ gathering. They felt involved and were proud to hold the position.
    We tried dropping the pagination once and the fallout was incredible and demonstrated how important this part of the paper was. People felt fully engaged so to compare that to what a Facebook reporter calls building up a network is ridiculous.
    Connecting the community is what the big boys used to do until 6-7 years ago when digital became the thing, and is something the hyper local do so well today,

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  • April 8, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Under served communities as a result of cuts the same publishers made

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  • April 9, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    In the absence of fully trained and experienced ‘news hounds’ in editorial departments cut to the bone there’s no problem using Facebook for potential story leads or quirky lighter pieces. My problem is that it’s being vastly over used and heavily relied upon, being used constantly in place of proper serious reportage.
    Seeing a photo accredited to the Facebook user whose posted the original piece and a flat Google Street view location – often with the name of the location written all over the road-appearing time and again on local paper online sites sums up how far we’ve fallen in proper news gathering.Lazy and easy FB content is cheap to obtain and if that’s the priority fair enough,but don’t then ask the public to subscribe ,or worse,donate,to fund more of the same.

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