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Facebook reporter’s scoop sparks campaign to save air ambulance

Ruairi WalshA Facebook-funded reporter’s exclusive obtained from an anonymous whistleblower has sparked a campaign to save an air ambulance.

Powys County Times journalist Ruari Walsh, who was hired as part of the NCTJ-administered Community News Project, broke the exclusive story that the Wales Air Ambulance Charity could close its base at Mid Wales Airport, in Welshpool.

The decision would leave Powys to be covered by stations that are out of the county.

Ruari’s story came from a whistleblower and was subsequently covered by other news outlets, with the strength of local concern prompting the launch of a campaign to save the base.

Ruari, pictured, said: “The information came to us from a tip. I put it to the Wales Air Ambulance and when they didn’t deny it, we knew we had something.

“We wrote up a skeleton story in case they then put out a press release to everyone. Me and my editor, Thom Kennedy, were chatting about it and we thought about how to break the story and how to react. He was a big help.

“Once we got it confirmed, we put out an initial breaking news story within 60 seconds and then the full story within five minutes. It was the most exciting thing I have done so far in journalism. It produced a huge community response.

“There is a campaign to save the air ambulance and a Facebook group with thousands of members. Politicians have been absolutely bouncing about it.”

Ruairi was taken on with a brief of covering rural and agricultural communities in Mid Wales.

The 33-year-old, who studied on the NCTJ-accredited MA Journalism course at Liverpool John Moores University before joining the Times, added: “The initial reaction to the story was horror. There was a lot of outrage, particularly as it’s a sparsely populated area and the ambulance response times aren’t great anyway.”

Thom Kennedy, editor of the Times, said: “The potential air ambulance base closure has rocked Powys, and the public have been hugely vocal in their opposition to any such move.

“That has followed the diligent work that Ruairi did to produce a properly researched, balanced story on the issue in the first instance.

“His reporting was very quickly followed up by everybody from hyperlocals to national broadcasters across Wales, and the campaign to save the base at Welshpool has stretched from a grassroots campaign to our local MPs and MSs.

“Ruairi has produced a number of tremendous pieces of work since joining us here in Powys, delivering a succession of front-page leads within weeks of starting in his first role, and the air ambulance campaign has been perhaps the best example of an exclusive piece of outstanding public interest journalism.”