Following the announcement of Facebook’s £4.5m ($6m) Community News Project, Nick Wrenn, head of news partnerships EMEA at Facebook, said the social media platform 'has a responsibility' to support local news organisations and help them find sustainable business models.

The grant is the first of its kind from Facebook, and Wrenn will be pioneering the 'pilot scheme' that will fund the training of 80 journalists as they are embedded into five regional newsrooms (Reach, Newsquest, JPIMedia (formerly Johnston Press), Archant and Midland News Association), in partnership with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)

Wrenn said the scheme aims to support communities who have lost beat reporters and local titles, but the rise of Facebook has widely been attributed to the decline of print advertising.

Wrenn, who has a background at Reuters News, BBC and CNN, has been heading the news partnership division for nearly four years, underlined his personal motive for supporting local news at Facebook.

“I think we have a responsibility and a commitment to collaborate with the news industry. There are obviously going to be some areas of tension as you find in any industry which is undergoing structural change, but the whole reason for my team, which has been growing and expanding with as many news organisations as possible, is to find solutions,” he explained.

The announcement of the Community News Project has sent mixed signals across the industry as to how committed Facebook is to supporting local news given the algorithm changes announced in January. Understanding that it has been disruptive, he explained the move helps to up-rank relevant information and down-rank clickbait.

If the pilot scheme proves effective, Wrenn said they will scale similar initiatives elsewhere around the world. It comes off the back of conversations with the five NCTJ partners dating back to last year, where publishers indicated they wanted more quality information on the platform and more diversity in their newsroom to reflect community readership.

The NCTJ will open up applications in January 2019 for journalists to get onto the scheme, and oversee the recruitment of applicants from schools, universities and other ‘less conventional’ backgrounds, with more details to come soon.

While working towards an NCTJ diploma, reporters will also have access to training on how to use Facebook for newsgathering, using tools like Crowdtangle and Facebook Stories.

“We don’t just want to see the journalist hired and say ‘job done’ – following through and making sure they get support in their job is the real vision of this, to be very digitally savvy and use tools and technology to bring more relevant community news into the newsrooms and help the newsrooms distribute that to their communities.”

He also added that it should be seen as complementary to other moves to support local news reporting, praising the BBC Local Democracy Fund for helping bring more stories which would not otherwise be covered, and the innovations that publishers are producing with Google DNI funding money.

“We hope that the work we are doing will help build innovation and other sustainable models for journalists – we see this as complementary not competing,” he added.

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