Facebook to fund 80 UK trainee local news journalists from £4.5m pot
Against the backdrop of troubled regional publisher Johnston Press securing a buyout, Facebook has revealed that it will donate £4.5m to support 80 local newspaper jobs in the UK; a global first from the tech giant.
The scheme is being overseen by the National Council for the Training of Journalists / Facebook
The move was planned long before The Scotsman and The i owner revealed its financial struggle last week. The newly-formed shell company JPI media, which brought Johnston back from the brink of administration over the weekend, is among the companies invited to apply for funding through Facebook's new 'Community News Project'.
The scheme is being overseen by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). Newsquest, Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), Archant and the Midland News Association will also be able to pitch for investment from Facebook as part of the two-year pilot.
"We recognise the important role Facebook plays in how people get their news today, and we want to do more to support local publishers," said Facebook's head of news partnerships for EMEA, Nick Wren in a blog.
The social giant said the investment will enable the NCTJ to oversee the recruitment of around 80 trainee 'community journalists' and place them at the heart of local newsrooms on a two-year scheme. The goal is to encourage more reporting from towns which have lost their local newspaper and beat reporters as readers, and ad revenue, increasingly flock to Facebook for news.
On Sunday (18 November), the Times pre-empted the scheme, quoting a senior industry source who described it as a "dishonest" ploy to fend off the threat of tighter regulation at very little cost.
“Be honest about it, if you’re going to do it — just buy these papers,” the source added.
Facebook, which has long said the initiative, which is a global first for the platform, didn't signal any move to start producing its own news content.
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ praised the move, saying: “The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality and diversity of journalists working in our local communities.
“We are very proud to support the sustainability of quality local journalism by overseeing the recruitment of additional local news journalists from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and by ensuring they are properly trained and qualified.”
Karyn Fleeting, head of audience at Reach said it was the "next logical step" for the publisher, which already works closely with Facebook.
"Community news is shared widely on Facebook, on pages and in community groups, and this collaboration will help us reach communities which don't currently benefit from in-depth community news.
"We think it will be good for journalism, good for our newsrooms and good for the local communities we serve."
Over the past 12 months, Facebook, under fire from several quarters for an array of accusations ranging from monopolistic practices to the dissemination (and even funding) of fake news, Facebook has sought to present itself as a friend to publishers, rather than a foe.
Its latest move echoes the launch of Google's own Digital News Initiative last year which seeks to "support high-quality journalism through technology and innovation by way of an 'innovation fund' for publishers worth €150m.