Society welcomes Community News Project extension as Facebook announces plan to launch news service in UK

Posted on: December 1, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The Society of Editors (SoE) has today welcomed news Facebook is to extend its Community News Project following a successful pilot scheme.

The announcement comes as the digital giant also revealed it has struck deals with several UK news publishers to pay millions for carrying their news content.

The deal, announced today (1 December 2020), will see Facebook begin to pay UK news publishers for some articles with the launch of Facebook News in January 2021. The announcement comes in the wake of the House of Lords Communications Committee last week calling on the social media giant to pay outlets for content and an announcement by government that it would set up a new competition unit to tackle the dominance of the digital giants when working with the UK’s media.

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the SoE said that the extension of the Community News Project was extremely welcome having created almost 80 journalist posts in the regional media already.

He added: “The arrival of Facebook News here in the UK has been welcomed by several large publishers who are set to engage with the platform. This is recognition that Facebook places great store in the quality journalism that is the bedrock of the UK’s vibrant news media. The Society of Editors has always maintained that promoting the trusted news of the mainstream media is the best way to combat fake news and misinformation.”

Facebook News, already launched in the US, will see a dedicated news tab added to the Facebook app. Publishers already believed to have signed deals with Facebook include the Daily Mirror and owner Reach PLC, The Independent, the Guardian Media group, regional newspaper giant JPI Media, Hearst Media Group and the Midland News Association, Archant, Conde Nast, The Economist, ESI Media,  Iliffe and STV. More are expected to join after the launch.

Speaking to The Guardian, Sarah Brown, Head of News Partnerships in Northern Europe for Facebook said: “It’s an extremely large investment and it’s something we’ve done over multiple years.”

Curators would prioritise checks and balances associated with original reporting when choosing which stories to highlight Brown told The Guardian: “Is it deeply sourced reporting, is it timely, is it offering an interesting angle, is it well sourced?”

Facebook News will be available on the mobile app rather than a web browser and the platform said that it will “pay publishers for content that is not already on the platform” – prioritising original reporting.

Jesper Doub, Facebook’s Director of News Partnerships, Europe added: “Facebook News offers a mix of curated and personalised top stories to deliver informative, reliable and relevant news.

“Readers see the top headlines and stories of the day alongside news personalised to their interests. During major news cycles, Facebook News provides timely news digests, highlighting original and authoritative reporting on pressing topics.

“Facebook News also helps people discover new topics and stories based on the news they read, share and follow.

“The UK launch in January will build on the success Facebook News has seen in the US, where we’ve found more than 95pc of the traffic Facebook News delivers to publishers is new audiences that have not interacted with those news outlets in the past.

“Facebook is committed to supporting news organisations as they adapt to the changing digital world, and we are delighted to have so many partners working with us at this early stage.”

 Zach Leonard, Chief Executive, The Independent commented: “Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at The Independent, from moving to digital-only in 2016, to becoming Britain’s largest quality digital news brand, with an average monthly global audience of 101m unique browsers. We are delighted to extend The Independent’s longstanding strategic partnership with Facebook through the UK launch of Facebook News, helping to bring high-quality and trustworthy news to its UK users.”

David Higgerson, Chief Audience Officer, Reach PLC (150 news brands including The Mirror, the Express, Daily Star, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Mail, Bristol Post and Daily Record) said: “We welcome the introduction of the Facebook News Tab in the UK as a sign of Facebook’s commitment to ensuring that accurate, well-researched journalism is given prominence on its platform.”

Bobby Hain, Managing Director, Broadcast at STV said: “STV News is one of the most trusted sources of news in Scotland. Millions of Scots rely on our programmes and digital platforms to keep them up-to-date and informed. We are delighted to be a launch partner for Facebook News and to be delivering relevant, reliable and engaging Scottish content to users of this innovative new service.”

In addition to the announcement of the imminent launch of Facebook News in the UK, the Community News Project has also been extended by Facebook following the success of a pilot scheme earlier this year. 

The project, launched in 2019 as a partnership between the NCTJ, Facebook and nine regional news publishers, aimed to support quality local journalism and improve the diversity of UK newsrooms.

At present, 78 community news reporters are in post in newsrooms across England, Scotland and Wales. Among that cohort, 68 per cent fall within one or more diversity categories identified by the project, and at least 22 per cent of the community reporters hired by the project are from BAME backgrounds.

Facebook, which funds the project, will also be making a further charitable donation of £2.25 million to the NCTJ in order that the scheme can continue beyond the pilot stage. The additional funding will potentially take the project into 2023.

Sian Cox Brooker, strategic partner manager at Facebook, said: “It’s been a privilege to work with the Community News Project reporters and I’m delighted we’re investing an additional £2.25m and extending the project for another year.

“The CNP is one of our most successful programmes globally and a testament to the importance and vitality of local news in the UK. I look forward to meeting the new reporters and building on our success with our publishing partners and the NCTJ.”

As in the pilot phase of the project, all community journalists will train towards an NCTJ qualification (the Diploma in Journalism for raw recruits, or the NQJ for those who already have the diploma) alongside working in the newsroom.

Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, said: “The wonderful news that Facebook is extending this brilliant project is a real boost for journalism and the news industry at such a challenging time.

“The NCTJ is proud to be a partner in a scheme that, thanks to Facebook’s support and the commitment of publishers, provides more journalism jobs, an innovative training scheme based on NCTJ qualifications and makes a real difference to the diversity of local newsrooms.”

A discussion of media training partnerships will form the basis of the Society’s final panel debate as part of the Virtual Conference for 2020 tomorrow – Wednesday 2 December. The free debate, taking place at 6pm, will hear from Sian Cox-Brooker, strategic partner manager at Facebook alongside Will Gore, head of partnerships and projects at the NCTJ, Sam Cooper, journalism course leader at the Sheffield College and PA Media’s director of media training, Bridgid Nzekwu. The session will be chaired by SoE President Alison Gow, audience and content editor for Reach plc North West. Register for the debate here.