THE DEMOCRAT

Society of Editors responds to Facebook funding announcement

Editor Bill Heaney producing The Dumbarton Democrat, an on-line local newspaper for West Dunbartonshire and Helensburgh for the 21st century.

By Bill Heaney

The Society of Editors has welcomed news that Facebook is to invest £4.5m in supporting local journalism under a Community News Project and has urged other organisations to follow suit.

But the Society, which campaigns for freedom of expression and high standards of training in the media, says it hopes future investment will extend to smaller, independent news organisations as well as the major publishers.

“The announcement by Facebook that it is to support the recruitment and training of some 80 journalists to cover truly local news through a partnership with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), often where such services have been lost, is very welcome indeed,” commented the Society’s executive director Ian Murray.

“It shows a commitment by the digital giant to grassroots journalism, and also just as importantly to supporting high standards of editorial training.

“When seen alongside the BBC-funded Local Democracy Partnership where some 150 journalists are being supported in the regional press to cover local councils and authorities, there is now a pattern set of how grassroots journalism can be supported where traditional revenue models are struggling.

“If similar funding could be sourced for other important areas of local reporting which have fallen by the wayside, such as attending courts, then we could truly have a road map for underpinning the vital role that grassroots journalism plays in communities.”

The Facebook campaign involves the NCTJ as well as major regional publishers Newsquest, JPI Media (formerly Johnston Press), Reach Plc and Archant and also the Midland News Association. Recruitment will start in 2019.

“I would hope that if the two-year pilot proves a success and continues that the initiative can expand to include small independent publishers or even start-ups in areas where there is no longer any local paper,” added Murray.

Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Nick Wren, said the initiative recognised the important role Facebook plays in how people get their news today.

“We want to do more to support local publishers,” he added. “The goal of the scheme is to encourage more reporting from towns which have lost their reporters.”

Both the Lennox Herald and the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter have closed their offices in Dumbarton. And the sales figures for both have slumped to almost one third of what they were at the turn of the century.

Bill Heaney said: “The Dumbarton Democrat receives no funding and does not charge for advertising for local events and good causes.  It is funded entirely by the editor.

“Neither does it receive support of any kind from West Dunbartonshire Council who appear opposed to close scrutiny of their role in the community and refuse to accept questions from The Democrat through the usual channels, which is custom and practice for all public organisations. Their communications department, which costs £400,000 a year to finance, refuses to communicate with us despite the fact that hundreds of local people (more than 1,000 some days) read the newspaper every day.”

  • Bill Heaney is an Emeritus Editor of the Society of Editors and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists. He has won a number of newspaper industry awards including Scotland’s Weekly Newspaper Journalist of the Year (three times) and was a special adviser to the First Minister of Scotland on regional media matters.

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