Credit: Image by Jerzy Morkis from Pixabay

"I was losing faith", said Darren Gibb, a 36-year-old journalist from Fife in Scotland, who joined Fife Free Press as community news reporter in June 2019.

He is one of 82 local journalists appointed to regional newsrooms across the UK as part of Facebook’s Community News Project that aims to better inform underserved communities.

Gibb, married and father to an eight-year-old daughter, left school aged 15. He later worked for Fife Council as a recycling centre assistant, eventually taking voluntary redundancy last year because his wife continued her studies and he needed to finance the family.

It was indeed his wife who suggested he goes back to education, so he decided to study journalism at Fife College.

"I took the course, thinking I may one day need to expose corruption at the council," he said.

After completing his diploma and passing his NCTJ exams, Gibb was wondering what the next step would be. That is when he saw the community news reporter role advertised and, four weeks after his interview, he got a call telling him he got the job.

"It was one of the best moments of my life since my daughter was born," he said, his voice shaking.

To better serve local residents, Gibb has created Facebook group Kirkcaldy Connected that has now more than 1,000 members. He is making contacts in the community and people are coming to him with stories because they have never had a dedicated community reporter before.

"The amount of respect I get from them is great. I’m feeling like I am part of the community, I have something I can feel proud of.

"The sense of achievement after all these years slaving away in jobs where you get no appreciation is wonderful. It’s a really good feeling to make my wife and daughter proud of me. Now my daughter wants to be a journalist."

Another community reporter who joined the profession later is life is James Vukmirovic who has joined the Express & Star newspaper based in Wolverhampton, England, that covers the West Midlands county and Staffordshire.

Vukmirovic had always wanted to be a sports commentator. However, after graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2003, he was not sure about how to get into the newsroom. He took an office job instead and as he was climbing the career ladder, the dream of becoming a journalist was getting more distant.

"I thought I missed my chance, that the boat has sailed," he said.

The first curveball came in October 2016 when his father passed away. A year later, while still in a demanding managerial role, he realised he cannot do this any longer.

"When you start to really hate the environment and the office you're in, it’s hard."

Aged 36, Vukmirovic eventually gave up is well-paid position and went back to college to pass his NCTJ qualifications.

A few months later, he applied for the community news reporter role in Wolverhamptonand and finally got his first role in the journalism industry.

Despite self-doubt, he eventually got his dream job.

Vukmirovic was born in London and lived there until the age of three, before moving to Wolverhampton with his family. His grandfather came from Serbia during the Second world war and worked in Scottish mines to escape communism.

"I love Wolverhampton and wanted to stay in the city," he said. "I want to be able to write positive stories about Wolverhampton because it has got a bad rep."

He explained that the West Midlands industrial town is mostly known for deprivation and poverty and is badly in need of investment. However, it is less known for its different religious organisations and ethnic communities that are doing a great job to enrich local life.

From reporting on an inter-faith cricket match to a surprising wrestling workout at a Wolverhampton club, Vukmirovic’s reporting focuses on local stories his community can be proud of.

"I’m not afraid to go and talk to people and strike a conversation, usually about drinks or football. But that’s the way it is," he joked.

And where does he see himself in the years to come?

"It took me so long to get here that I don’t plan, I didn’t even believe I will do this job. I just take it as it comes.

"Don’t let your age go in the way, don’t let anything get you down. I did it at 36, nothing can stop you. I got to do things I didn’t think I will do. This job helped me find so many interesting people - don’t let you stop you."

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Darren Gibb claimed universal credit. However, he was only going through the application process a couple of weeks before being offered the position with the Fife Free Press. He also studied at Fife College and not university.

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