At the heart of every community lies its government, its civil structures, and its local newsrooms. Local journalists are the backbone of communities, providing invaluable coverage on the stories that matter to local people the most.
With local news facing challenges, it is more important than ever to ensure people can rely on news that genuinely meets the needs around them and reflects the communities those newsrooms serve.
To face these challenges, in the UK earlier this year Facebook launched the Community News Project, in partnership with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and several UK publishers. The two-year pilot is a £4.5m ($6m) plan aimed at training and placing 82 journalists into local community newsrooms across the country, focusing on providing more authentic, reliable news and information to underserved communities. The project is also committed to hiring journalists from many diverse backgrounds who can, in turn, offer readers coverage on a broader range of issues.
More than 4,000 people applied for the roles and, in June, we welcomed the first tranche of 33 journalists to our main London offices to embark upon a comprehensive two-day training program on digital newsgathering, content creation and storytelling.
The plan was to equip attendees – who spanned the breadth of the country in terms of geography and diversity – with the skills to newsgather great content, develop strategies for building audiences online and on social platforms, and feel confident in how to build sophisticated online strategies for success in storytelling through the latest in digital tools.
What They Learned
The group who attended were probably one of the most diverse we have ever trained in the UK in terms of age, gender, race and socio-economic background.
They were highly engaged, thoughtful and already making an impact – one community reporter, Bethan Shufflebotham, celebrated her first front page while at the bootcamp.
The two-day training focused on several key areas: newsgathering, storytelling, content creation (focusing on video) and other topics of crucial importance to journalists, including safety and integrity.
It soon became apparent that the more interactive the sessions the better. Video trainer Mark Egan drew on his years at the BBC to get attendees shooting Facebook lives, burnishing their interviewing techniques and teaching them how to frame the perfect shot.
Meanwhile, mixing up the agenda with non-Facebook speakers who could provide an experienced inside view of the profession proved inspirational for attendees. Blogger and journalist Anna Whitehouse, also known as Mother Pukka, spent an hour walking the reporters through her campaign for flexible working and gave a masterclass in how to deal with tricky comments and challenging topics.
Attendees said they left the training feeling equipped to tell news stories in innovative and informative ways. “I should be tired after these two days but I’m so excited to start using everything I’ve learned, I feel very energized!” said one reporter.
Will Gore, head of partnerships for the NCTJ, said the bootcamp proved “inspiring and practical” in equal measure.
“It was quickly clear to me that the publishers involved in the project have successfully recruited a remarkably talented and energised group – and have attracted a diverse intake. The reporters’ obvious desire to cover underserved communities was great to see.”
“By combining on-the-job learning with NCTJ training (in addition to the knowledge shared by Facebook’s experts), the scheme will ensure the reporters gain the skills and qualifications they need to progress their careers – and serve the needs of local audiences to boot.”
What Worked Best
- The topic of journalist as brand Page versus profile, how to moderate comments, how to work with your own presence and that of your publisher – was of key importance to these journalists, many of whom (though not all) are new to their journalism careers and starting to establish themselves and their presence in the communities they are covering. If you are interested in learning more about these topics, check out our online e-learning courses.
- Showing the news ‘process’ Attendees were eager to learn more about how to demystify the process of news, showing what goes into the creation of a news story, revealing the work behind the scenes and breaking down the whole process of content gathering and creation. this was a pertinent topic, with journalists and platforms currently on the frontlines in combating misinformation.
- Building online and social communities As these journalists are keen to cover the more marginalised or underrepresented groups and sections of UK society, learning how they could develop spaces around niche topics or communities was top of mind. Attendees examined how to promote groups effectively through social and digital channels, how to join local groups to establish yourself as a reliable journalistic voice, and how to start groups to newsgather relevant content on key stories.
The Next Steps
The aim of this project is to improve both the diversity of local newsrooms and those reporters’ abilities to cover the communities and stories that matter the most.
With these 33 journalists now back in newsrooms across the UK and producing great stories, we look forward to welcoming the next cohort in September, in addition to providing follow up training for those who have already gone through the first round.