Innovation and Initiative of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for the Regional Press Awards Innovation and 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 brilliant innovations and ideas that have made their mark in the industry – from new supplements and sections to launches and re-launches of products.

21421, The Jewish News

Supporting statement:

Jewish News initiated the world’s first collaboration between media outlets serving different faith communities.

The 21 for 21 project saw us joining forces with Church Times and British Muslim TV to produce a list of young people under the age of 40 (seven from each community) who are leading the way in interfaith cooperation and understanding in the UK. The final list included a Hip Hop artist, radio presenter, community café owners and a Muslim Hebrew teacher.   

The initiative’s name reflects the fact cooperation between faiths is a key challenge for the 21st century. The narrative of faiths in constant conflict is all too dominant today – sometimes perpetuated by media old and new – so the three outlets set out to show this is far from the case. In fact, in many ways the UK is a beacon for interfaith cooperation with a huge number of organisations and individuals working daily to break down barriers and bring communities together.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May said of the 21 for 21: “This initiative will do much to break down artificial barriers between faiths, helping us to build stronger communities and showing the world that, when we all stand together, religion can be an important force for good.”

The first phase of the project concluded with many on the list attending a celebratory reception at Lambeth Palace in May 2019 at which they were presented with trophies. London Mayor Sadiq Khan sent a video message for the occasion, describing the list as “historic”.

The project was originally launched a year earlier when the three media outlets simultaneously put out a public call for nominees, backed up by our partners Coexist House and the Faith and Belief Forum. After receiving close to 100 nominations, it was down to our panel of senior religious leaders from various branches of the three Abrahamic faiths (eg. Church of England, Catholic, Methodist from the Christian community) to select the final 21. The finalists were then profiled in the print publications, making the front page of both the Jewish News and Church Times and generating a great deal of congratulatory and celebratory comments on social media.

While the project aimed to show the full extent of cooperation to our own readers and viewers – and to celebrate that – we also hoped to take the message to a wider audience so were delighted that it was picked up by The Times within a wider faith story and by Press Gazette.

Judges’ Comments:  

An excellent, thought-provoking and positive initiative shining a light on the good work being done in the inter-faith arena.

BusinessLive, Reach Plc

Supporting statements:

BusinessLive is the innovative new showcase bringing together the BEST regional business journalism from across the country, helping business readers to find out what’s happening in their area and beyond. And it’s proved a hit with readers and commercial partners alike.

At Reach we have long had some of the best business journalists in the country, producing great work for general and business readers alike.

We saw an opportunity to bring that great content and analysis together in one place – and to create a unique site offering regional and national perspectives on business news.

So in June 2019 we launched BusinessLive, bringing together reporting from Reach business journalists from across England and Wales for the very first time.

You can find news from as far afield as Newcastle and Plymouth. And in another innovative move, we let readers break down the site either by area or by Key Sector if they want to see what counterparts and competitors are doing across the country. We give our local business stories a national audience.

It’s our aim to give local and regional businesses a national voice, championing those at the real heart of the UK’s economy, through insightful journalism, timely information and provocative opinion.

We shine a spotlight on the entrepreneurs, the stars of the future and the small firms that are the backbone of our economy.

Our biggest news stories from 2019 show our range. They range from the shock news of Pinewood pulling out of Wales to the rags to riches tale of Everything Branded owner Paul Rowlett – and from a story about striking Asda workers to a report on the sale of an Iceland store in Pontypridd that proved a sleeper hit, as well as a unique business-focused General Election live blog.

We tell local stories but also offer a national perspective. By bringing our award-winning journalists together into one team, we’ve been able to create compelling national features. The attached stories show us not just reporting on the news but analysing it, with deep local knowledge and with a national reach.

We’ve grown healthily from a standing start to 1m page views in January 2020.

We work a bit differently from other sites when it comes to social media and promoting stories.

Our main audience drivers are our regional emails, sent out every morning, followed up by breaking news emails when big stories happen. We also have a series of weekly emails covering sectors from manufacturing to professional services – in January 2020 we sent a total of 600,000 emails.
And we’re also seeing growth on LinkedIn, where from zero, we now have more than 3,000 people following our work.

Creating BusinessLive has also allowed us to win commercial deals for online business news that wouldn’t have been possible before – including a national partnership with NatWest for 2020.

We’ve transformed the way we do business coverage and we’ve created a unique, must-visit and popular platform for business news from across the UK with a regionally-focused perspective like no other.

Judges’ Comments:  

Bringing regional business news to a wider audience.

Finding communities of interest is one of the ways we can provide our content in the future.

Community Content Network, The Mail, Barrow

Supporting statements:

Newsquest is committed to making its titles a true reflection of the communities they serve.

With newsroom resources more stretched than ever it essential our journalists concentrate their time on bringing in the biggest and best stories. So with this in mind we needed to develop an initiative that helped fill the titles with engaging content but requires little or no input from the reporting teams.

The Community Content Network is just that. A way of developing content by utilising the writing skills of PR officers, business leaders, community leaders, social media platforms, history groups, schools, volunteers and readers to provide an alternative way to get new hyper local bespoke content into our papers.

This initiative is designed to create engaging content for back of the book pages and to free up staff reporters to search for award-winning front-end stories to drive print sales and web performance.

Launched on The Mail, Barrow (daily) the CCN helped transform the future of the title. Prior to its launch the title sat at -25 per cent newspaper sales year on year and saw stunted web growth. Just a year later The Mail is sitting at around -9 per cent year on year and has seen almost 60 per cent growth online year on year.

The platforms credited for this improvement include the new babies page, Wedding of the week, trader of the week, Zoo diary, Big Night Out, 999 diary and Cumbria Tourism’s places to visit.

The CCN was then rolled out across Cumbria, the North East, Lancashire, Manchester, Wales, Stourbridge and is about to start in York.

And so far has achieved hundreds of thousands of page views and helped improve and bolster newspaper sales.

A world away from WI reports, the CCN helps create content readers really want to read.

Run by Vanessa Sims with support from community manager Simone O’Kane the initiative is a real link up with the community.

On visiting a new area and after analysing which subject matter the title in question requires, Simone gets out and meets the people who know the subject well.

Link ups have included nostalgia columns from history groups, wedding reports from wedding photographers, trader of the week nominations from Business Improvement District managers, new arrival pictures taken by hospital staff, columns from mountain rescue teams, the police and fire service as well as animal news and advice from local vets to name just a few.

All the submitted content is ready for print – following a read by the news desk.

The CCN is also part of a Google DNI funded project looking at ways community contributors can better submit content to regional newspapers. 

As part of the project we are developing a programme that will enable contributors to submit content directly into a newspaper’s system to ease the production process.

All the titles which have rolled this out are all seeing brand awareness increasing and more support from community contributors.

Judges’ Comments:  

An innovative take on journalistic first principles, WI reports for a digital audience.

Brilliant idea well executed.

Norwich City Sticker Album, Eastern Daily Press

Supporting statement:

The idea for a Norwich City sticker album came from a planning meeting about what we should put in the goody bags we give to supporters outside the ground. We were trying to work out what would not only appeal to youngsters, so they’d bug their parents to get it, but might appeal to the parents themselves as well. 

I’d always wondered why clubs didn’t do sticker albums just for their teams, but assumed the answer was because they weren’t allowed to. It seemed too obvious an idea otherwise. Nevertheless, we decided to approach Norwich City to see whether a club sticker album was something they’d ever considered. 

It turned out they hadn’t but loved the idea and after a few initial meetings – and on the back of what was increasingly becoming a fantastic promotion winning season – it was decided to go ahead and produce one as a joint venture. 

The end product was a fantastic example of a brilliant team effort, carried out across several months, working alongside the club.

Upon release the reaction was stunning, fans loved it and loved the idea. By the end of the project we had sold 9,000 albums, 250,000 sticker packs and gave away another 250,000 through in-paper tokens. Editorially it enabled us to engage with thousands of fans, through content, swap shops and a special competition which saw #WheresPukki trend nationally for several hours. We had a massive version of his sticker printed and photographed it in secret locations.

My favourite unintended consequence however has been the stories we’ve heard from readers, including parents who have used it to share memories with their children and to help teach them numeracy and even a heart-warming letter from a reader who told how her husband, with dementia, had gotten amazing joy out of being reminded of some of the older players he used to watch and telling his grown up son all about them. 

In terms of the end results they have been staggering. It’s driven newspaper sales through the vouchers and digital through ongoing stories. It’s ticked every box and is now potentially to be replicated in Suffolk, if Ipswich Town are promoted and we are in discussions about a second Norwich City one.

I’d encourage any regional editor to look at whether they could do this project with their local club.

Judges’ Comments:  

A simple initiative, well executed with great impact, not least financially.

From a ‘why not?’ idea through to stories of nostalgia and community.

Radar AI | Local News Wire, RADAR AI

Supporting statement:

RADAR’s local newswire should win Innovation of the Year, because it has revolutionised the way local newsrooms receive relevant, localised, quality data stories.

RADAR is the world’s first and only AI-powered local news agency, described by the Financial Times as “the UK’s most prolific reporter”. We combine traditional journalism skills with AI tools to produce local news at scale. Last year, our team of one editor and four reporters wrote more than 96,000 quality data stories.

From long-established brands like the Yorkshire Evening Post, to more recently launched hyperlocals like the Caerphilly Observer, around 400 titles rely on RADAR for a daily supply of relevant, public interest stories to power their web pages, deliver page leads and provide front-page splashes. 

We have innovated in both newsgathering and story production, harnessing the growing pool of open data as a source of stories across news topics. While local newsrooms sometimes lack the data skills, and regularly lack the time, to rigorously interrogate numbers, we make that time by producing stories at scale.

RADAR has taken a technology-driven approach to news production – using natural language processing, we write our stories algorithmically to produce hundreds of unique versions – but kept journalists at the heart of it. All our reporters are local news journalists – we have taught them a new tool which allows them to wring the value out of datasets, producing stories within the tight timeframe a modern news cycle demands, for every area in the UK.

Our stories are delivered ready to publish, and most are without alteration, though newsrooms occasionally use them as the basis for bigger features with local comment added in. It means newsrooms do not need to devote their precious resources to tailoring our pieces, which are also provided with images, and, where appropriate, graphics – everything the newsroom needs to tell their readers the story.

Our output is high volume, and, more importantly, high quality – and provides great value to our subscribers. Speaking to the Columbia Journalism Review, JPI Media’s Tim Robinson said: “JPI publishes 95% of RADAR’s stories as provided. The online sites have already seen a boost in the number of page views since they’ve started mixing in the material from RADAR.”

Toby Granville, from Newsquest, told the Financial Times that “the content is written just to the standard you would expect from a normal reporter working in our newsroom”.

RADAR has been a game-changer for the local news industry and breaks the compromise between high volume or high quality. Accordingly, it is recognised in our industry as forming a key component of the mould of future journalism. The Global Editor’s Network described RADAR as “today’s best example of AI-powered news”, while the Cairncross Review into the future sustainability of public interest journalism said the RADAR approach “holds particular promise”.

Judges’ Comments:  

Delivering news people can use through our regional newsrooms.

Quite simply a game changer.

Statement, The Irish News

Supporting statements:

The Irish News used a €50,000 grant from Google’s Digital News Initiative fund to build a prototype of a fact checking tool which we called Statement.

It’s our aim to complete the build of a single point of truth for tracking every Northern Ireland politician’s public statements on a variety of topics, across their career, to help to hold our public servants to account, and combat fake news by showing statements as quoted by a range of news sources, from across the political spectrum.

The Irish News recruited a design and development partner to design, build, test and iterate on an efficient back-end system for journalists and members of the public that presents a politician’s history of public statements on a given topic to a public-facing website. 

The Statement tool will: 

-Automatically import sanitised news articles on our chosen set of politicians and topics, from a range of trusted news sources

-Import politicians’ tweets on our chosen set of topics, for possible inclusion in their public statements

-Enable a journalist to quickly and efficiently process each article, highlighting relevant statements and applying them to a range of topics

-Automatically identify duplicate statements, and bundle them into multi-source statements on the front end

-Enable a member of the public to submit an article for inclusion, with automatic filtering based on news source

A journalist spent almost two months working on the tool, processing and highlighting stories for publishing, to validate our assumptions, seed the system with data, and identify workflow challenges and opportunities. 

The ease of use and speed of the system already dramatically exceeded our initial expectations.

The prototype was funded by the Google DNI scheme and a next step is to train a machine learning model and use artificial intelligence tools to tag and categorise articles automatically, with an ever increasing level of accuracy. 

In conclusion, we believe that Statement can become an important tool for journalists and all truth seekers to hold our politicians to account. 

Faking things is so easy we can no longer rely on our judgement and memory to differentiate between truth and lies. We feel like politicians say what they like but change their minds or ignore the promises they’ve made. 

Statement will provide us with a place to go to research and verify all words uttered by politicians on key matters so there is nowhere to hide for our elected representatives.  

Judges’ Comments:  

At a time when fake news in its various guises presents such a threat to journalism and public confidence it’s so encouraging to see investment in new tools to hold politicians to account and test their public statements for consistency. While this project seems to remain mostly at the development stage it’s worth celebrating its innovation and initiative.