The Community Journalism Fellowship, funded by a generous benefactor from the East End, supports early-career journalists who can demonstrate a commitment and interest in using constructive journalism for the benefit of the local community.
Community journalism is a form of local journalism that transfers power from media companies to the grassroots and is committed to being a trusted, long-term guardian of the community.
Start date: 12 February 2024
Application deadline: 14 January 2024
What is community journalism?
Community journalism is a form of local journalism that transfers power from corporations to the grassroots. Embracing the move towards decentralisation, it gives local people greater agency over the messaging within their area, thereby restoring trust and authenticity in the local media.
Community journalism is noted for content that gives a greater understanding of our fellow humans and the societal issues they strive to resolve. There is an emphasis on cultural heritage, lived experience, social activism and local democracy and its tone eschews sensationalist and divisive rhetoric for honest and constructive reporting.
Your tutor and mentor
All course participants are trained and mentored by Tabitha Stapely, who has 30 years of experience in the media industry.
Following her degree in English Literature and Language at Leeds University, Stapely trained as a journalist in 1995 at the London College of Printing. Her first work experience placement was at the Independent and she then interned at GQ at Condé Nast for one year.
Her first job was Editorial Assistant at Cosmopolitan’s Zest magazine and she then went on to be the Style Editor for the Saturday Telegraph Magazine. In 2010 she joined Hachette Filipacchi shortly before it was bought by Hearst and here she helped develop the digital strategy for Red, Elle, Handbag and Harpers magazines. She was Digital Director at Elle and Deputy Editor of Redonline.com when she left to follow her interest in local journalism.
In 2016, Stapely was accepted at Cambridge Social Ventures, a social enterprise incubator at Cambridge Judge Business School. Here she formulated her idea for community-centred local journalism that strengthens the local community, working to unite not divide.
As well as being an alumna of Cambridge Social Ventures, Stapely is an RSA Fellow (see her published work here). In 2019 she was listed as one of the top 50 East London Innovators and in 2020 was recognised as a Natwest WISE100 Women of Inspiration in 2020 for her work in social enterprise.
About the Fellowship
The Community Journalism Fellowship runs for six months and comprises three nine-week units – a Foundation module, a Further module and an Extended Project module.
Only three or four Fellows are accepted in any single cohort ensuring plenty of one-on-one training – and an intense training experience that will fast-track your path into journalism.
Each Fellow will be working on one of Social Streets’ four titles in Tower Hamlets (Roman Road LDN, Bethnal Green LDN, Whitechapel LDN and Poplar LDN). The Fellows will be given the title of Community Reporter of the publication for the duration of the Course.
At the end of the Fellowship, Fellows will have an extensive portfolio of work, connections with like-minded writers, experience in running a publication, and a thorough knowledge of community journalism, an emerging form of local journalism that will inform the media of the future.
Classes and tutorials
The teaching comprises two elements per week: a two-hour session on Mondays and a one-to-one tutorial every Wednesday afternoon during which Fellows will be given detailed feedback and support with their weekly assignment
Fellows must attend the morning workshop in person at Social Streets’ office in Bow. The tutorial on Wednesday afternoon is online.
Please note, Monday classes are also open to other non-Fellow students who are permitted to join the class online.
Module 1: Foundation Course in Community Journalism
The Foundation Course will give participants a broad understanding of community journalism and first-hand experience with a variety of forms that contribute to community journalism.
- An introduction to community journalism
- How to find community-led stories
- Mobile photography and picture sourcing
- Writing news using the principles of constructive journalism
- Writing for online: content optimisation
- Image processing and optimisation
- Writing reviews and the search for objectivity
- Writing about heritage (research, relevancy)
- Travel writing that explodes the five senses
Module 2: Further Course in Community Journalism
The Further Course will help you community journalism that requires sensitivity and care.
- Cross-cultural communications
- Long form writing, structure, pace, treatments, literary devices
- Writing for social justice – persuasive writing, FOIs and RoRs
- Researching and writing about culture
- Interviewing people – tips, tricks, questions, recording, transcribing,
- A portrait of a person – painting with words
- Developing a series – solutions journalism and data journalism
- Pitching (editorial voice, hooks, angles, standfirsts and pitching)
- Review and presentations
Module 3: Extended Project
Once graduated, students must submit a 6,000-word dissertation, presented as four to six articles, about a specialist topic. This should be investigatory in nature, either solutions-based or data journalism.
During this module, Fellows will have three tutorials set at flexible times from a member of the wider editorial team to discuss progress of the project.
The Fellowship is designed for people who already have some writing experience or journalism qualifications and want to deepen their writing and interviewing ability, learn specific community journalism skills, and build editorship skills. Applicants must be able to demonstrate the following:
- Fluent English and strong ‘writing-at-speed’ skills (there will be a timed task as part of the application process)
- Writing experience or journalism qualifications
- An interest in community journalism, social justice, constructive journalism, anthropology or cultural issues. It is preferable if applicants also show an awareness of the social, economic and political issues faced by inner city, diverse and deprived communities such as Tower Hamlets.
- A connection with Tower Hamlets is favoured. While the Fellowship is open to all, it prioritises those who were born, raised or educated in Tower Hamlets or its borderlands.
This programme runs for six months and comprises three nine-week units – a Foundation module, a Further module and an Extended Project module.
Fellows must be able to commit to in-office meetings and training on Mondays and Wednesdays, and should expect the training and weekly assignments to take two working days per week. Depending on the vagaries of each real-world assignment, some weeks may require additional hours, which Fellows are expected to make up as necessary.
Fellows need to commit two days a week, comprising the weekly two-hour workshop on Monday mornings, the 30-minute tutorial session on Wednesday afternoons, and a day and a half to research and write their weekly assignments.
In recognition of this commitment, Community Journalism Fellows receive a stipend of £3,000 to support them through the programme.
The stipend is paid in three instalments: £1,000 after the completion of each module.
It is essential that Fellows are able to participate in all the sessions and keep up with their assignments. The practical, peer-to-peer learning environment relies on group participation. If one Fellow is not 100% committed and present, it negatively impacts the other Fellows in the program.
Fellows must attend 80% of their classes and tutorials in order to successfully graduate and receive their Certificate. If attendance falls below 80%, Fellows will forgo a proportional percentage of their stipend and will not be invited to attend the next module. Pre-booked holidays or other commitments will not be accepted as a reason for non-attendance.
Fees for non-Fellow students
The taught element of the Monday workshops is open to all students on the Certificate Course in Community Journalism. These students attend the session online on termly fees.
What is unique about the Fellowship?
This is the only Community Journalism Fellowship in the country. It is teaching a model of local journalism that strengthen the local community and transfer power from the media to the grassroots. It suits people interested in social activisim and social justice.
How long are the Fellowships?
The Fellowship runs for a total of six months, or 26 weeks. Of those 26 weeks, the first 18 include weekly classes/tutorials. The next 9 weeks are more flexible as Fellows produce their long series.
What are previous Fellows now doing?
Ruby Flanagan is now Financial Reporter at the Express and says the skills she learned to write in an accessible way helped her secure this role.
Albert Toth is now Assistant Audience Editor at The Independent and said the skills he learned here in seo and online writing helped him secure the job.
Lily Wakely is Content Assistant for the Local Trust and says the skills she learned in writing human interest stories helped her secure the job.
Helen Brown has established a strong freelance career and has since collaborated with Social Streets CIC on a funded contract publishing project.
Cormac Kehoe went on to take part in a funded project with Social Streets CIC and the Centre of Investigative Journalism to produce a series of articles looking into the Truman Brewery development for our title Whitechapel LDN.
Niamh Carrol works for the leading B2B magazine, Marketing Week.
I came to journalism later in my career and the traineeship has given me the skills, experience and portfolio to develop my practice without an NCTJ qualification. It has been a unique opportunity to meaningfully and practically apply what we learn week-by-week in our respective publications. Tabitha is a brilliant and thorough teacher with a lot of experience in digital media. But she also affords the students the space and responsibility to grow the magazine in the ways that we want. She is also a generous editor and gives a lot of time and valuable feedback on our pitching and writing. By the end of the course, I was securing freelance commissions – one with a national newspaper – which the traineeship gave me the confidence and portfolio to do. I feel immensely lucky to have been on this course and would unreservedly recommend it to anyone.
I wanted to write features that capture a person’s spirit, and this scheme helped me develop interview techniques to get people talking about their home and identity which I will take with me for the rest of my career. After finishing my NCTJ I still had big gaps in my knowledge when it came to SEO, content strategy and social media, aspects of journalism, which are often requirements for jobs; this scheme gave me a much more in-depth understanding of online journalism. Doing on-the-ground reporting from my patch was really helpful in learning how to interview and photograph people in person. I also loved meeting other community-minded journalists who live in my area through the alumni group and getting to ask Tabitha for advice about all aspects of the industry. I wish I had known about this scheme before as it would have been perfect to do alongside my NCTJ!
Completing the digital editor course after my NCTJ training was the best decision I made as a budding journalist. While I learned about the essential modules as part of my NCTJ course, I still had gaps in my knowledge about how to run a website through WordPress, optimise stories with SEO, and create a content strategy for a publication. I loved writing for Whitechapel LDN because it allowed me to get on the ground and meet the people who made the area special. Beyond the group sessions, I really valued the individual meetings we had with Tabitha as this gave me a chance to receive comprehensive feedback on my writing. Having had little experience with long-form features, I learned about how to write a strong and engaging article. This course was pivotal in strengthening my confidence as a journalist, and I thoroughly recommend it to every early-stage journalist.
This scheme really helped me build my experience and skill within feature writing. I have learnt more about interviewing, particularly how to structure an interview to get out of it what you want, as well as long-form writing. My features usually don’t have a structure until I’ve finished and edited it multiple times. This scheme gave me more know-how about how to write the feature so I can stick to my word count. I loved building relationships with the people in Poplar – that’s the difference between local and community journalism, being able to work on the ground to amplify the voice of those who aren’t normally represented in media. I also loved working alongside the two other editors, it was fun to be a part of a bigger team. – Ruby Flanagan is now a reporter at The Express.
I love meeting people from all walks of life and as a journalist I am passionate about the opportunity to tell their stories. I hoped the scheme would help me with this, both in learning how to build up relationships with sources and how to interview and write their stories. One of the most important things I hadn’t really considered before was the importance of SEO. As a journalist, you want your work to be in front of as wide an audience as possible, and SEO is a key tool to do this. Journalism is increasingly digital and the importance of SEO is going to be something every journalist recognises. I learnt all sorts of SEO tips and tricks from the scheme. It was also a real privilege to be accepted and embedded in the Bethnal Green community thanks to the reputation of Social Streets in the area. – Niamh Carroll is now a reporter at Marketing Week.
I am passionate about journalism that makes a difference and Tabitha encourages people to follow their interests so I was able to focus on uncovering the radical past and present in Whitechapel. One of the most useful skills I’ve learned on the scheme is finding stories. It’s taught me how best to make useful contacts that will lead to stories, how to find stories out-and-about on the patch, and how to use social media as a source. My favourite aspect of the scheme was being in charge of an entire publication. It was very fun to act as an editor, working on social media and considering what to write based on factors like our content verticals and SEO, to try and boost our audience as much as possible. – Albert Toth has been accepted at City University for an MA in Newspaper Journalism.
How to apply
You will need to supply FOUR elements.
1) Curriculum Vitae
This should include a) where you live now b) the name and city of your secondary school c) university and subject details c) post-graduate education (if any); d) experience in journalism or writing
2) Cover Letter
tell us why you want to be a Community Journalism Fellow and why we should choose you. As your CV tells us about your qualifications, please use the cover letter as an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a ‘good fit’ for the course. Community journalists should be able to demonstrate an interest in local democracy, social activism, constructive journalism, anthropology or cultural heritage.
3) An unpublished news story
Please send an unpublished news story of no more than 500 words on a topic of interest to people who read The Slice Tower Hamlets or one of its online community titles. We are looking for a story that you have researched and written yourself with Social Streets in mind. Please note, it should be a news story — not an opinion piece or creative writing. Submissions that have already been published will be rejected.
4) Extended Project pitch
Please send us ideas of a topic you might propose for your Extended Project. Discuss the treatment for the project, bearing in mind The Slice’s editorial values. You won’t be tied to this idea as we expect it to develop and change during the programme but this will give us a sense of your understanding of Tower Hamlets and the qualities and issues that make it unique.
We will not assess applications unless all four elements are present.