A 17-year-old community news reporter has been invited to Holyrood after exposing illegal underage vape sales for her first investigative journalism story.
Iona MacDonald, who works for Highland News and Media, visited seven shops around the city of Inverness to see if she could purchase vapes without ID, as part of an investigation she had pitched to editors.
She was able to buy the restricted nicotine products in three of the shops, no questions asked.
Iona said: “It was a bit daunting going into the shops myself but it wasn’t too scary, and I expected to be able to buy some so it wasn’t too shocking when I could.
“I was happy in a sense that I knew I had a good story because once I had bought them, I had proven you can.”
Her tweet about the subsequent story reached 160,000 views, Iona said, with retweets from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Throughout the investigation, if Iona was directly asked her age she would not lie or try to persuade the shop assistant to hand over the product and if she was asked for ID, she would leave the shop.
There was also an adult accompanying Iona to take the vapes she had bought.
Sarah Fyfe, head of content and audience at Highland News and Media, which publishes several titles including the Inverness Courier, said: “Iona put forward the idea to conduct an investigation into the accessibility of vapes for under 18s.
“At only 17, she is already a confident and conscientious journalist, with the ability to find human interest stories that have impact on both local and national levels.
“She did a stellar job of the piece, with a thorough investigation, a captivating piece of writing and eye-catching images.
“Her article has attracted attention from across the country and she has been invited to a discussion on vapes in Holyrood.
“I am incredibly proud of her.”
Iona was hired under the Community News Project, which is a partnership between the NCTJ, Meta and regional news publishers to improve the diversity of UK newsrooms and support the coverage of underserved communities. She has primarily worked in and around Ullapool, focussing on stories affecting towns and villages in the north-west of Scotland.
She has studied towards her NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Glasgow Clyde College through the project. Beginning in post at the age of just 16, Iona is the youngest of the more than 260 people who have been given an opportunity to take on the community reporter roles created by the scheme.
Last week, Meta confirmed it will not renew funding for the project when its current phase draws to an end.
Current contracts are not affected by Meta’s decision to end its involvement, and many community reporter roles will continue into 2024 as journalists complete their qualification.
Read Iona’s story here.