How community reporters impressed awards judges with a behind-the-scenes TikTok series and a scoop about Russian gas

After students, trainee and apprentice journalists were honoured at the NCTJ’s Awards for Excellence earlier this month, we take a look at the winners who were working in roles funded by the Community News Project (CNP).

After students, trainee and apprentice journalists were honoured at the NCTJ’s Awards for Excellence earlier this month, we take a look at the winners who were working in roles funded by the Community News Project (CNP).

Community reporters were eligible to submit their work for consideration across a range of categories, alongside other NCTJ trainees. Their exceptional community journalism was also recognised in a separate category, sponsored by Meta, with dozens of CNP reporters submitting entries.

Community News Project award winner Daniella Theis with Sky Sports News presenter Jo Wilson and Sarah Brown from Meta

The Community News Project award was won by Daniella Theis, who worked at the Greenock Telegraph before becoming a freelance journalist. Judges said Daniella’s awards entries – about concerns over the transfer of a dementia care centre and an administrative muddle that left a Ukrainian refugee stranded – were excellent pieces of journalism and led to authorities taking action.

Paul McAuley was highly commended for his work covering LGBTQIA+ communities in Liverpool.

It was a testament to the impact of the community reporters’ coverage and commitment that two CNP journalists also won awards in other categories – sports journalism and top scoop.

They were honoured during a celebration lunch and awards ceremony at Twickenham Stadium, hosted by Sky Sports News presenter Jo Wilson. News UK was the event’s headline sponsor.

Albert Tait with his award

Albert Tait, 20, won the trainee top scoop award, sponsored by Sky News, for his exclusive on how Henley Town Council was continuing to buy gas from a Russian-affiliated energy company.

He broke the story – his first front-page splash – when he worked as a community reporter for the Henley Standard, discovering the issue when he was reading the minutes of a town council finance meeting.

Albert, who now works for the Oxford Mail, said: “A councillor had raised it as an issue and asked why the council was still paying for Russian gas after the invasion of Ukraine. This councillor was quite critical of it.

“It was quite a complicated process having to ask questions over email. I had to ask really specific questions about which buildings the gas was used for and all the specifics of the contract.

“I then spoke to the councillor who criticised it. He was in New York on a business trip at the time and he had to fit me in around business meetings.

“I think it’s a sign of a good story when you have to overcome these kinds of challenges.

“I also got some comments from the town council because I wanted to make sure it was a balanced picture and that the story was accurate.”

He described how he felt when the story was picked to appear on the front page, and said: “It was an incredibly proud moment to see my byline on the front page. Seeing people buying the paper with my name on the front was very surreal and exciting.”

Albert Tait pictured with Sky Sports News presenter Jo Wilson and John Ryley, head of Sky News, at the NCTJ’s Awards for Excellence

Albert said it was surprising to be announced as the winner of the trainee top scoop award.

He said: “I felt very proud to be among all these young talented journalists. It was a real surprise when I did actually get the award; it felt very surreal when my name was read out.

“I’m not sure what I said to the awards sponsor on stage, I was so nervous and overwhelmed.

“It was an incredible day.”

Community reporter Ji-Min Lee

Ji-min Lee, 27, community reporter for Wokingham Today, impressed judges with his Escape The Drop TikTok series, winning the trainee sports journalism award, sponsored by Sky Sports.

The series has allowed him to take fans of Reading FC behind the scenes as the club attempts to maintain Championship status despite a transfer embargo.

Accumulating over 2.14 million views this season alone, the series has reached a new and younger audience.

Ji-Min, who lives in Reading and is himself a Reading FC fan, said: “We have created a really nice community of Reading fans but also people interested in football and sports journalism.

“I often use the videos to link to articles online, so it works as an intermediary between the fans and the written articles on our website.

“Obviously it doesn’t take away from my community news reporting – I see that as my nine to five, but the sports reporting is my five to nine.

“We get access to games home and away so I get to speak to managers and players after the games. That’s what people want to see.

“A real highlight was certainly going to Manchester United when we drew them in the FA Cup. Going to that stadium and speaking to their managers was amazing.”

Ji-Min launched his TikTok page in May 2022, a month after starting his role as a community reporter.

He further learnt about using TikTok as a journalist when he attended a three-day virtual training bootcamp for community reporters, hosted by Meta in July last year.

He said: “I thought I would give it a go. At first, I had maybe 10 followers and it built up from there. I needed to have the perseverance to stick with it.

“I started by putting my community news on there, then it completely changed because I put a couple of sports videos up. The fans have been really supportive of it and have said they would like to see more of this sort of stuff.”

Ji-Min Lee with Sky Sports News presenter Jo Wilson and Mark Alford, director of Sky Sports, at the Awards for Excellence

Thinking ahead as the football season comes to a close, Ji-Min plans to use the series to cover the transfer embargo and the threat of a six-point deduction by the English Football League.

Speaking about the awards event, he said: “I took a look at the entries from last year and I thought I had no chance because the standard was so high, plus the other shortlister was really strong.

“It was a win just being there and to have my work recognised. When I was announced as the winner, it was such a special feeling.

“One of the highlights was meeting people I have been on course with and meeting my tutors. It was great to meet so many up-and-coming and established journalists.”

Will Gore, head of partnerships and projects at the NCTJ, said: “The performance of the community reporters at our recent awards was another positive sign of the talent that the Community News Project has attracted and enabled. It’s great to be able to recognise and celebrate the excellent journalism being done by so many NCTJ students and trainees – especially at an awards event that has the backing of the news sector.”

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