LONDON (Reuters) - Facebook is donating 4.5 million pounds ($5.8 million) to train journalists in Britain to support communities that have lost local newspapers and reporters, in no little part due to ad revenue and readers switching online to the social media giant.
The U.S. company said on Monday it recognized the role it played in how people got their news today and it wanted to do more to support local publishers.
Around 80 new trainee reporters funded by Facebook will be recruited by regional publishers Newsquest, JPIMedia, Reach, Archant and the Midland News Association, in a scheme overseen by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), Facebook said.
The pressure facing print publishers was laid bare on Friday when Britain’s Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and “I” newspapers, filed for administration.
Some 228 local newspapers folded in Britain between 2005 and 2017, according to the Press Gazette, many of them closed by the publishers involved in the Facebook scheme.
The publishers have blamed this on the shift from print to online, and the loss of advertising revenue to platforms like Facebook and Google .
Facebook’s Strategic Partner Manager Sian Cox-Brooker said the company recognized that local news was vitally important.
“We hear all the time from our communities that that’s what they want to read on our platform, it informs communities and it had a really important role to play in holding institutions and councils to account,” she said.
Facebook’s head of news partnerships Nick Wrenn said Facebook was looking at ways to collaborate with an industry with which it had not always seen eye to eye.
“We are trying to do is work out what different sustainable longer-term changes and models might look like,” he said.
Facebook said the two-year pilot - a global first for the platform - did not signal any move to start producing its own news content.
The publishers involved in the scheme said they were happy to receive funding from the social media group at the center of the fake news controversy.
“We are open to working with any organization where we have a clear opportunity,” Archant’s content director Laura Adams said.
The NCTJ also said its experience of working with Facebook had been positive.
“The view that I have is Facebook is sincere in its hope that this scheme will lead to the creation of more relevant timely local news,” said NCTJ’s chief executive Joanne Butcher.
Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Keith Weir and Jane Merriman