Facebook to Fund Trainee Local Newspaper Reporters in Britain

In what’s being called a first-of-its-kind project, Facebook Inc. has pledged £4.5 million ($5.7 million) to train journalists in the U.K.

The money will go toward training 80 journalists who will work with local newspapers around the country. Part of what Facebook calls the “Community News Project,” the initiative will be administered by the U.K.’s National Council for the Training of Journalists.

“The goal is to encourage more reporting from towns which have lost their local newspaper and beat reporters,” Facebook said in a press release, adding that the training will be over a period of two years. The journalists will come from a wide range of backgrounds that Facebook said will mirror the communities they’ll be working in.

Facebook also said the budding journos will be “getting right to the heart of those communities, building relationships, and covering those subjects which aren’t just like that of the essential part of the big news which is revealing every day, but mainly affect the life of the people we want to reach.”

Facebook didn’t expressly say it, but the project no doubt stems from criticism the company has faced over its own part in taking out local newspapers. But the tone of the British media writing about the initiative was more or less positive.

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Some critics did ask if such a move might make these newspapers overly reliant on Facebook, while others asked what happens when the two years is up. Nonetheless, something needs to be done. It’s reported that from 2005 to 2017, a total of 228 local newspapers closed their doors, with 40 closing in 2017 — though clearly, Facebook is hardly the only cause and perhaps not the main one. Craigslist, for instance, at least in the U.S. helped decimate the classified ads market, a one-time cash cow for local newspapers.

NCTJ Chief Executive Joanne Butcher said she had had a positive experience working with Facebook on the whole. “The main point of view with respect to the Facebook is sincere in its hope that this will lead to the creation of more relevant, timely local news,” she told The Guardian. “In terms of the charitable objectives we are there to attract, train, and qualify outstanding journalists.”

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