Community News Project reporters giving communities a voice amid coronavirus pandemic

Community News Project reporters have been rising to the challenge to give their communities a voice amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Formally launched last year, the Community News Project is a partnership between the NCTJ, Facebook and nine regional publishers, which aims to support quality local journalism and improve the diversity of UK newsrooms.

The project has hired 80 reporters in newsrooms across England, Scotland and Wales, to increase reliable and relevant news in previously underserved communities.

Natasha Meek, who works for the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford, published a story about a local Facebook group set up to tackle loneliness, which has been bringing joy to the community during the pandemic by hosting online events such as pub quizzes and live music for residents.

After a reader said, “thank you for continuing to help communities to have a voice”, Natasha tweeted: “That simple sentence brought tears to my eyes today.

“While journalism isn’t anything like a 12-hour NHS shift, it is long hours and slogging away for sources and chasing the truth. Times are tough but my job is gold.

“The Telegraph & Argus is working all hours of the day to bring you fact-checked, reliable and trusted news. We are YOUR local paper. I promise to make sure your story and experiences in life are represented as a community reporter as only one part of a small but wonderful team.”

Another uplifting piece came from Lisa Rand at the Liverpool Echo, about a community group that helps pensioners facing social isolation which has transformed its service to provide essential support and supplies for those in need.

The reporters have also been highlighting the concerning issues affecting their communities during the crisis.

The Northern Echo’s Richard Bellis published a call for help from an elderly couple who are self-isolating due to their various health conditions and have been unable to order any food deliveries.

Similarly, Jacob Farr of the Edinburgh Evening News shone a spotlight on workers who had been laid off en masse and were calling for practical assistance.

Jacob said: “At the Edinburgh Evening News we have tried to tell the stories of the most vulnerable and economically challenged in society since the outbreak of the virus.

“Edinburgh can sometimes be a tale of two cities between the haves and the have-nots and at a time of mass lay-offs we felt it was extremely important to cover the stories behind the statistics.”

David Higgerson, chief audience officer at Reach plc, said: “The determination to make a difference during this unprecedented crisis has been wonderful to witness from our community news reporters.

“Across the country, we are seeing people turn to local news for the information they trust, presented to them in a context which means most to them. The community news reporters are playing a massive part in that, and ensuring a wide range of communities are having a say in how we approach this situation.”

Will Gore, head of partnerships and projects at the NCTJ, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for everyone, including journalists.

“But is has also shown just how important professional journalism is – providing reliable information to the public, highlighting the stories of those in need, and communicating messages of hope amidst the gloom.

“Despite having to adapt their working practices, community news reporters across the UK are continuing to provide an invaluable public service to people in their local area. The fact they are doing so at the same time as studying for their NCTJ qualifications makes their efforts even more commendable.”