Facebook has launched a £4.5 million ($6 million) fund to train around 80 new local journalists in the UK as part of a new “Community News Project.” The goal, according to Facebook, is to encourage more reporting from towns that have lost their local newspapers and reporters. “Community news is shared widely on Facebook, on pages and in community groups, and this collaboration will help us reach communities which don’t currently benefit from in-depth community news,” said Karyn Fleeting, head of audience at newspaper publisher Reach PLC.
The money will be made available via the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), and it will be divided among local publishers in order to recruit trainees. According to The Guardian, the fund is a world first for Facebook.
The scheme follows the launch of the Facebook Journalism Project at the beginning of 2017, which saw Facebook pledge to support a “healthy news ecosystem,” hitting back at criticisms that its platform had become a haven for fake and misleading news. At the time, Facebook called local news the “starting place for great journalism.” This new fund appears to be part of a two-pronged attack: promoting the production of quality journalism, while the social network’s moderation teams step up their efforts to tackle fake news. Additionally, it’s hoped that algorithm changes will also reduce the reach of sensationalist content.
The UK lost around 40 local newspapers in 2017 alone, so funds like this are sorely needed, especially when Facebook has been accused of playing a part in their decline. However, with only enough money to fund the program for two years, the economics of local news (supported in no small way by Facebook’s algorithms) will have to undergo a much more fundamental shift if these trainees are to find a job at its conclusion.