Digital Initiative of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for the Regional Press Awards Digital Initiative of the Year, sponsored by Facebook Journalism Project.

Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.

The Facebook Journalism Project is committed to strengthening communities by connecting people with meaningful journalism. As part of our work, the Facebook News Partnerships team collaborates with publishers, broadcasters, journalists, universities and other stakeholders across the news industry globally to promote quality journalism.

Our teams partner with news organisations to develop products and tools for newsrooms. The Partnerships team are also committed to training journalists, hosting workshops and sessions in newsrooms as well as providing online training and resources.

The Shortlist

This category focuses on those bright ideas that changed the face of digital coverage. This could be an individual’s single idea that shaped a massive response from the public, or a team effort that showed flair and imagination as well as technical know-how.

Click on the images to explore examples of the initiatives. 

Brexit Voices from Northern Ireland, Belfast Telegraph

Supporting statement:

In 2019, the Belfast Telegraph’s Brexit Voices project, which allowed our team of digital reporters to produce long-form digital journalism over the course of a few weeks, transformed how we told the Brexit story on the website.

Our ambition was to develop a slower news format that served our audience at a time of uncertainty.

During the Brexit talks and the three years of political vacuum at Stormont, political discourse in Northern Ireland became more polarised. At times, rolling digital coverage and social media have been contributing factors. 

We felt the day-to-day, minute-by-minute Brexit digital coverage did little to address the uncertainty and confusion for readers … in some cases it amplified it.

Our Brexit Voice project was, in part, a conscious effort to slow things right down. It also reflected on as many aspects of life in Northern Ireland and its diversity as possible, through the prism of Brexit.

For example, we met fishermen and employees of the fish processing industry at Kilkeel. We talked to farmers across the Brexit divide. We featured students and an EU migrant and also met people living in border areas. 


– We focused on real people, excluding politicians and, as much as possible, experts and talking heads;

– We took about two months to research, source and produce the project, resisting the temptation to launch early to coincide with a big ‘Brexit moment’;

– We sourced data (how many border crossings by people per year, the sectors of the economy with the highest share of EU workers, the levels of CAP subsidies received by NI farmers), we linked to official reports and we explained issues (e.g. the Common Fisheries Policy or the Common Travel Area).

Technically, our project was built using Shorthand. Our ambition was to experiment with a digital format that forced us to go beyond the article. Our objective was to produce visually curated, mobile and social media friendly long-form journalism.

Our project was 5,000 words and included seven video and audio stories. It showcased fantastic portraits and pictures from across Northern Ireland. It was broken into topics and allowed our readers to directly consume or share bitesize chunks of coverage. 

It went live to complement our coverage the week of the European Election last May, giving it depth and colour. It was unique content our competitors didn’t have.

Internally, it taught us that to innovate and do things differently, we need to collaborate among desks and departments. It was a team effort. We shared resources, expertise and contacts.

We learnt that there was an appetite for long-form content among our readers. During the first week, users spent on average 7 minutes engaging with the long read. Our average engaged time on the site is about a minute.

But the biggest surprise of all was that a project that didn’t include a single ad unlocked advertising budget. Advertisers liked the format and the Shorthand template was sold and later re-purposed as native content for a brand.

Judges’ Comments:  

Long reads with well-produced and interesting videos on a subject that required the depth delivered.

Impressive content and format. Strong delivery of fascinating content.

Instagram, Manchester Evening News

Supporting statement:

The Manchester Evening News was an early adopter of Instagram. We built our feed as a place to celebrate Manchester. It really took off; we now have 188,000 followers and thousands of people sharing images under our hashtag.

We knew Instagram stories was an ideal platform for our content and we’ve really gone for it over 2019. We create visually appealing slides using captivating pictures and video from our journalists.

We aim to tell stories that are relevant to the community that follows us on Instagram – a younger audience than our other social media outlets, and one that is looking for more positive content. They want to be inspired, informed and entertained. 

Although we do cover some breaking news that is a small part compared to our other platforms. Where Instagram stories are suitable for Facebook we cross post.

We believe that our work on Instagram has allowed us to reach a new, younger audience (53 per cent under 35). 

We had 800k page views to our website from Instagram last year. It is a relatively small but growing number.

However, it’s not about clicks through to our site as people can get all they need from the Instagram story. It’s about reaching a new audience and being the go-to place for content about Greater Manchester – bringing restaurant openings, reviews, the latest events and things to do. We provide essential traffic and weather information, and keep the city updated on the latest developments that will change the skyline of Manchester forever. 

We also use Instagram stories to share key information in breaking news situations – such as during a terrorist attack at the Arndale and the Whaly Bridge dam incident. 

On top of that, we share photos and videos that celebrate and reflect life in Manchester and the people that live in our city. Much of this content comes from our readers who are proud of where they live – around 40,000 images were shared under the #manchestereveningnews hashtag in 2019. They love to post pictures of the many well-known landmarks – and the weather! Our followers know how to find the best angles and the best light to take amazing pictures.

We have spent time building the community and attending meet-ups around the city, as well as interacting with our followers by liking and commenting on their pictures. 

This is a new and vibrant community that we are very proud of!

Judges’ Comments:  

Superb use of technology. Innovative and exciting in its presentation. Brilliant use of reader-involved content.

Opening Eyes on Homelessness, BelfastLive

Supporting statement:

BelfastLive has raised over £25,000 for its local homeless community with a year-long fundraiser, thanks to the efforts of the newsroom staff, readers and local businesses. 

In partnership with the Welcome Organisation, a homeless charity based in Belfast, the site set out in December 2018 with the goal of opening eyes on homelessness and getting a new mobile health unit out on the streets of Belfast to bring medical care directly to rough sleepers.

Over the course of the campaign, BelfastLive produced 27 articles, accruing more than 140,000 views in total. On Facebook, the campaign reached nearly 1.9 million users, with more than 150,000 engaging with content. 

Donations poured in from BelfastLive readers, staff fundraisers and contributions from many generous local businesses, clients and supporters.

Coverage of the worsening situation of homelessness in Belfast had always evoked a massive response from Belfast Live readers. We could see from social comments and reactions to stories that it was an issue that readers really cared about, but often didn’t know how to help. This campaign offered people a way to get involved and help with the practical issues faced daily by rough sleepers. 

According to the charity, many homeless people do not present to doctors or hospitals, for various reasons. As such, simple medical conditions can deteriorate very quickly. Being able to treat such conditions on the streets in a much-needed service for rough sleepers. 

The campaign was launched with an innovative social media video inviting people to ‘open their eyes’ to homelessness, upload their videos, and tag friends to spread the message. This viral video campaign was supported by local celebrities and sports stars, helping to raise awareness of the campaign (see URL 1). 

Engaging video interviews helped drive donations by highlighting the great work of the charity and the need for such a medical vehicle (see URL 2). 

Staff fundraising was crucial to the campaign. The BelfastLive team took part in the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon relay, and the Welcome Organisation’s annual sleep-out at Belfast City Airport to raise money via sponsorship. Other activities included partnering with a bookmaker client to promote a weekly charity bet on the site’s Irish League football podcast. 

Telling the real life stories at the heart of the issue through engaging content, helped Belfast Live tap into the generosity of its readers and its Commercial partners, and within a year, raise the total funds necessary for the purchase and kitting out of a medical outreach van. 

The campaign will continue into 2020, with updates on the progress of getting the van on the road, and beyond that, giving readers insight into how the van will be used, and the impact it will have on those who need it. Highlighting the ongoing great work of the charity will also continue to be a focus of the campaign in the year ahead.

Judges’ Comments:  

An ambitious and well-executed campaign which has made a big difference in the continuity, using digital content to mobilise people around this important issue. The stats show the impact the campaign had over a prolonged period of time.

Peterloo – 200 years on, Manchester Evening News

The Manchester Evening News did not exist when the Peterloo Massacre happened – but 200 years later we wanted to find a way to bring to life the unfolding horror.

Eighteen people were killed and 650 injured during a rally which would change the course of democracy.

From 8am on August 16, 2019 we ran a live blog telling the story of what happened, moment by moment.

One of our journalists went through old newspapers, history books and websites to research the chronology of the day and understand the back stories of the victims. He then planned out a timeline and images.

On the day one of our content editors managed the blog as though it was a live event.

It was a powerful and moving read and got a huge response from the audience (see attached pdf). We shared the blog on Facebook and live tweeted the story as it unfolded.

People contacted us to tell us their stories of their ancestors who had been among the victims. 

On the day we also used Facebook Live to broadcast the moving moment that the names of the victims were read out at a ceremony in Manchester city centre. This was viewed 54k times with hundreds of moving comments.

We also produced a long read aimed at being the definitive guide to what happened.

Around 30k people read the content. We hope it will serve as a piece of living history on our site for years to come. 

We weren’t there to cover the Peterloo Massacre – it wasn’t until 1868 that the Manchester Evening News began – but we hope we did some justice to the memory of those who were murdered during a peaceful rally 200 years ago.

Judges’ Comments:  

Making history come alive using a modern-day blog and graphics but done extremely well. An exciting way to bring the past into the modern and make it relevant to today’s generation.

Rugby World Cup, WalesOnline

Supporting statement:

Our ambition for the 2019 Rugby World Cup was simple: to make WalesOnline the best rugby site in the world. Months of planning went in to establishing what it would take to do that: staffing 24 hours every day for a full two months; producing three episodes a week of the Welsh Rugby Podcast; launching a live rugby debate TV show, broadcast daily on Facebook; enrolling thousands of WhatsApp followers to get headlines straight to their phones; live-streaming the match build-up outside stadiums in Japan to followers on Facebook; and ensuring the WalesOnline site and app were the go-to destination at any time of day or night for rugby fans. We knew it had worked when England coach Eddie Jones answered a question in a press conference with: “Well, if WalesOnline says it’s true…”. (It was.)

Here’s how we did it.

* The Gain Line: Genuinely groundbreaking in the industry, the tournament saw us stream 41 episodes of The Gain Line, spanning 13 hours of live broadcasting. Studio guests included ex-All Black Xavier Rush, former Wales international Nigel Walker and Cardiff Blues coach John Mulvihill, while the production suite designed for the purpose by our video producers allowed us to cut in interviews with correspondent Matt Southcombe in Japan, and packages filmed on location.

* The Welsh Rugby Podcast: Topping out at no.5 in the iTunes sport chart, and reaching 20,000 weekly streams, our long-running podcast was transformed during the tournament by trebling our output, bringing in star guests including Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips and Serge Betsen and producing a documentary on outgoing Wales coach Warren Gatland to mark his last game in charge. We also held a live event with a studio audience at Cardiff Arms Park starring injured Wales skipper Ellis Jenkins, streamed live on Facebook and released as a special episode.

* WhatsApp bulletins: A key element of our strategy was to get breaking news to our readers as it happened, which meant being able to send headline straight to their phone screens. 4,000 of our most loyal subscribers signed up to our WhatsApp bulletin service, getting the biggest news breaks – like Rob Howley’s shock exit from the Wales camp – in real time.

* Inside the camp: Another crucial strategy was to give readers more access to the tournament in Japan. Video packages and live Facebook streams showed our readers behind the scenes at the Welsh team hotel and base cities, while Matt Southcombe’s live-streamed “walks to the stadium” became a cult feature on Facebook.

* 24hr shifts and newsroom secondments: None of this would have been possible without placing the newsroom at the service of the project. News journalists worked side-by-side with sports reporters and video producers on new shifts starting at midnight and 4am, creating a truly collaborative newsroom culture, and enabling us to deliver 15m page views over the course of the tournament, and boosting our loyal rugby readers in the months after the tournament had finished by 117% year-on-year.

Judges’ Comments:  

A fantastic 360 coverage around a huge event for their Welsh audience. They threw the kitchen sink at it and got great results. The videos, podcasts and social media helped generate a huge audience.

Comprehensive, innovative and high-quality multi-media, multi-channel presentation of a vital event for the platform.

Shaped by a River: Tales of the Tay, The Courier

Supporting statement:

Shaped by a River is The Courier’s answer to the question: what happens when you give journalists time and space to do their very best work? 

By combining remarkable photos and video with in-depth, passionate writing, and cutting-edge digital publishing, we provided a glimpse of the exciting future ahead for all Courier readers — and our staff. 

For us, the success of the project was summed up by a letter we received from an 83-year-old lifelong reader of the title, who followed every instalment online and wrote: “This series is the best thing The Courier has ever achieved.”

Judges’ Comments:  

Amazing content and photography.

Clever idea that used the digital age to tell the story of a people.

Surprisingly high-quality photography and video interviews. Writing captured the feeling of the river communities and controversies. Presentation far removed from that of an old-style regional newspaper.

WalesOnline TikTok project

Supporting statement:

TikTok was the fastest growing social media platform of 2019, overtaking Facebook and YouTube to become the world’s most downloaded social media app.

Yet at the start of the year, no UK publisher had a notable presence.

At WalesOnline we were interested in its explosive success with young people – 41% of users are 16-24, an age group the news industry can struggle to engage with.

So, we launched a project to learn from its popularity with Generation Z. 

We are a newsroom experienced and confident in producing social videos – but the app’s premise was a new challenge.

TikTok has been described as a new subculture, where young people express themselves with short, off-the-wall videos, often set to music, alongside participating in trends and hashtag challenges. Most are shot on phones, rather than polished productions.

In August we were one of the first UK publishers, and the very first regional, to launch an account.

It began with a clip of a man getting attacked by a seagull at a Welsh seaside town, to the soundtrack of Mariah Carey’s Obsessed. We had around 3.5k views – not bad for a first attempt.

Since then, the journey has been a huge learning curve, with plenty of mistakes made along the way, but we’ve learnt there’s a lot more to it than sharing funny videos and have obtained a greater insight into the mindset of young social media users. 

We’ve made huge progress, building an audience of more than 10.3k followers with 112.2k likes on our videos. We’ve achieved visibility for our brand with a new audience.

We were recently verified and discovered TikTok is using WalesOnline as an example of good practice when presenting to other publishers.

Our creators range from young reporters to senior managers – though a few journalists have been banned from appearing by teenage offspring! 

We’ve found success largely with original identity content and extraordinary sights, like an octopus crawling across a Welsh beach.

Our most viewed video so far is sunrise viewed from Snowdon (197.8k views). 

We’ve created videos like “Questions Welsh people get asked on holiday” and “Reasons to speak Welsh”.

We’ve filmed at Extinction Rebellion protests and told stories of people we’ve written about, like Doug the bodybuilder, and Grace, a teenager who sings to her grandad with dementia.

Our comments show our viewers are largely young Welsh people, proud to shout about their country and hometown and often surprised, but welcoming, of content that is local to them. They now engage with us and tag us in their own videos.

The project has helped us evaluate our approach and understanding of the habits of younger audiences, which will shape the face of our future digital coverage.

And, unlike some competitors, the platform encourages the distribution of news. 

Our TikTok strategy has now shifted to develop how we communicate harder news stories on the platform and early results are pleasing.

Judges’ Comments:  

Clever, amusing and delivering a new audience. Great idea to use as a testbed for news.

Ensuring a new generation engaged with local news and their local news provider.

Great to experiment in this area.