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Regional press chiefs tout lottery funding to save community news jobs

Toby GranvilleA group of five regional press leaders  are urging the government to help save around 100 community news jobs after Meta announced it was axeing support for UK newsrooms.

As reported by HTFP last week, the Facebook owner is pulling its funding for the Community News Project which currently supports around 100 local reporter roles.

Reporters employed on a two-year contract leading up to the Diploma in Journalism will have those contracts honoured, but the withdrawal of funding means they won’t be renewed to enable them to go on to take the National Qualification in Journalism.

Now a group of five regional press executives led by Newsquest’s Toby Granville, pictured, are seeking a meeting with ministers to discuss alternative sources of funding to enable the project to continue – including potentially the National Lottery.

They have written to Culture and Media Secretary Lucy Frazer asking the government to take up the issue with Meta with the aim of persuading the tech giant to reverse its decision.

The lette adds:   “Additionally, we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss securing alternative funding (for example, via the National Lottery fund) to enable the scheme to continue if Meta refuses to reconsider its decision.”

Similar letters have been sent to her newly-appointed Labour shadow Thangam Debonnaire and also to local MPs within the various publishers’ local patches.

Other signatories are Iliffe Media editorial director Ian Carter, Reach’s audience and content director for the North East and Yorkshire Helen Dalby, Neil Pickford of National World and MNA Media editor-in-chief Martin Wright.

The group are also urging ministers and MPs to amke swift progress in passsing the Digital Markets Bill, which aims to “reset the balance of power in the online ecosystem” and force companies such as Meta to do more to renumerate publishers for the content they use on their platforms.

Below is the letter to Ms Frazer in full.

Dear Lucy Frazer KC MP,

We are writing to you following Meta’s (formerly Facebook) announcement last week (5 September) that it intends to cease funding a community journalism project, which has been succeeding for the last five years in regional newsrooms across the country, when the current contracts come to an end in 2023.

The Community News Project (CNP) was a ground-breaking trainee journalism scheme, announced in November 2018 and run in partnership with Meta’s Journalism Project, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and publisher groups across the UK, including those for which we collectively make this representation.

The CNP enabled local and regional newsrooms to hire trainees with no previous experience of journalism, ensuring that recruitment enhanced the diversity of local news teams and augmented their ability to be truly representative of the communities they serve. More than 70% of reporters hired through the CNP have met one or more of the diversity criteria identified at the project’s outset.

Crucially, the reporters employed under the CNP scheme covered grassroots community issues – whether geographic or demographic – which have traditionally been underserved by mainstream media, while working towards an NCTJ qualification covering core professional journalism skills.

Meta has contributed £12.8 million to the CNP over the past five years. However, it will not continue to fund the scheme beyond its current phase, which finishes at the end of 2023. This means that the funding will be lost for 100 trainee community reporter roles. Those reporters will see their contracts come to an end, unless newsrooms can create permanent roles for them at a time of unprecedented economic challenge in the local media landscape. Consequently, many of these talented journalists may be forced to leave the industry.

Across a portfolio of UK publications, CNP reporters have helped publishers to ensure that as many communities as possible are represented in our newsrooms. The scheme has brought dozens of talented people from different backgrounds into journalism careers that would otherwise not have been possible for them.

Over the five years the CNP has operated, our community reporters have published some exceptional and impactful journalism. From playing a trusted role in bringing local communities together and keeping them informed during the Covid pandemic to shining a light on important under-represented community issues, challenges and success stories across the country.

We have also seen countless examples of community reporters succeeding in their roles, completing their professional qualifications and going on to secure permanent senior reporter positions in our newsrooms and across the industry – a testament to the depth, breadth, and relevance of the training they have received.

This latest announcement will no doubt come as little surprise to the Government, considering the news blackout we have seen Meta enforcing in response to Canada’s Bill C-18 (the Online News Act) and Australia’s News Bargaining Code. In the UK, Meta continues to exploit its dominant position in the market, taking billions of pounds from advertising and reaping the benefits of news content on its platforms without adequately compensating the publishers that invest in it.

This behaviour will continue to deprive the hard-working newsrooms who invest in creating journalism of the recognition and remuneration they sorely deserve – unless we act fast.

This is why the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (the Digital Markets Bill), currently before Parliament, is so important. The Bill must reset the balance of power in the online ecosystem and create fair terms, levelling the playing field between platforms and publishers. Parliament should now move swiftly to pass the Bill.

We would be grateful for the Government’s support in writing to Meta, highlighting concerns about their recent decision and the loss of the CNP scheme. Additionally, we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss securing alternative funding (for example, via the National Lottery fund) to enable the scheme to continue if Meta refuses to reconsider its decision.

Yours sincerely,

Toby Granville, Newsquest, chair of CNP Governance Committee
Ian Carter, Iliffe Media
Helen Dalby, Reach
Neil Pickford, National World
Martin Wright, MNA Media