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Bid to fund 70 local news jobs revealed amid NCTJ fears over candidate quality

Joanne Butcher newTraining chiefs have revealed plans to create around 70 new journalism roles amid fears a regional press jobs boom could affect the quality of candidates entering the industry.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists has urged the UK Government to invest £2m in order to help fund dozens of new journalism apprenticeships across the country.

The NCTJ has outlined the plan in its submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism.

It follows a “notable” increase in job creation across regional publishers over the past year, which has prompted the training body to share its concerns about “low numbers of suitably qualified candidates” applying for junior roles.

In a touted partnership involving regional and local publishers, the DCMS would invest £2m in the NCTJ to support around 70 local news apprentice journalists for two years, with a focus on “professional journalism skills and qualifications for people from diverse backgrounds”.

According to the NCTJ, the investment would allow publishers involved in the scheme to recruit apprentice journalists “from the communities they serve and primarily from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds”.

Half of the apprentices’ employment costs would be paid from the DCMS funding, up to a maximum of £12,500, with match funding contributed by employers.

Under the plan, the new apprentices would be focused on the 27 counties and districts in England with the aim of at least 50pc of those recruited being retained in permanent roles at the end of the scheme.

In its submission to the inquiry, the NCTJ said: “Plainly the local journalism landscape has been significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The last two years have demonstrated very clearly the importance of high-quality local news provision; but also emphasised challenges which the industry was already facing.

“It is notable, however, that in the last nine to 12 months there has been something of a boom in recruitment in local journalism, particularly at junior level, as the bigger news providers emerge from covid lockdowns, and as they seek to expand into parts of the country which they had previously not covered.

“This in itself has created a particular challenge in some areas, where employers are reporting low numbers of suitably qualified candidates for entry-level roles.

“The NCTJ has sought to mitigate this challenge by offering qualifications through distance learning, via its Journalism Skills Academy, a learning platform launched with support from the Google News Initiative in 2020.

“Nevertheless, additional support for training may be required for some publishers. And while it is understandable that government has been cautious about direct economic support for journalists, it is notable that significant investment has been made in the creative industries.

“Now is the time for government to reconsider its approach to assisting the news media.

“The NCTJ would be concerned if an unintended consequence of increased journalist numbers was not a concomitant rise in the proportion of properly trained journalists in work.

“Government support for professional training and development would bring economic benefits to the industry, as well as ensuring high journalistic standards.”

Last year Reach plc revealed it had taken on 400 journalists over the course of 2021, while other job creation announcements during the year included Newsquest’s push to take on 50 new journalists, Archant revealing it was seeking 70 new staff and JPIMedia, now National World, recruiting 45 employees to work on new city-based titles across the country.

The NCTJ says its plan was first put forward to DCMS and industry representatives in March, with “clear support” from local publishers.

NCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher, pictured, told HTFP: “In the NCTJ’s submission to the inquiry, we said we understood the government’s caution about direct economic support for journalists but there could be a role for government in supporting journalism training and diversity.

“A proposal, previously presented to DCMS in 2021 to create an apprentice fund, was included with our evidence as an example of an intervention the government could make to support the sustainability of local journalism.”