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Ross-shire reporter becomes an award-winner – at just 17


By John Davidson

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Iona MacDonald, of Highland News and Media, receives the award from Alfie Joey, former BBC Newcastle radio host, at the Community News Project Conference in Darlington. Picture: Paul Norris
Iona MacDonald, of Highland News and Media, receives the award from Alfie Joey, former BBC Newcastle radio host, at the Community News Project Conference in Darlington. Picture: Paul Norris

A young Highland journalist has won a national award for highlighting the plight of displaced care home residents in her home town of Ullapool.

Iona MacDonald was employed last year by Highland News and Media under the Community News Project scheme, funded by Meta.

At 16 years old at the time, she is the youngest person to be employed under the scheme, which has seen more than 260 reporters hired to cover underserved communities while working towards an NCTJ qualification.

Her award-winning work centred around the closure of Mo Dhachaidh care home in Ullapool, which was hit by severe economic conditions. The decision meant that only one private care home was left to serve the whole of the north-west Highlands, from Kyle of Lochalsh to Durness.

It left residents needing to be relocated many miles away, with the subsequent knock-on effect for families and friends also having to travel vast distances on sometimes single-track roads for visits.

The stories highlighted problems in the sector and raised the political profile of the issues particularly in rural communities.

Iona, now 17, won the prize for best campaign or content series at the NCTJ’s Community News Project (CNP) Conference, which took place in Darlington on Friday.

The event saw more than 70 community news reporters plus other industry leaders gathering to meet, network and learn new skills.

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Will Gore, head of partnerships and projects at the NCTJ, said: “It was fantastic to be able to bring together so many people connected with the Community News Project, and wonderful that Iona – the youngest reporter to have been hired during this scheme – should take home an award.”

Judges praised Iona’s work, saying: “Iona’s pieces showed a real passion for the story, giving a voice to those in the community who would otherwise not have been heard. The articles had clear impact.”

During the conference there was a masterclass on editing video by Michael Pearson, social media lead at BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds, as well as panels on building a journalism brand and careers after community reporting.

Prize winners Sam Harrison, Megan Howe, Iona MacDonald and Emily Jane with their certificates. Picture: Paul Norris
Prize winners Sam Harrison, Megan Howe, Iona MacDonald and Emily Jane with their certificates. Picture: Paul Norris

The former was chaired by Helen Dalby, audience and content director at Reach, with lively discussion on online safety for journalists, how to manage personal and professional personas and tactics to reach wider audiences.

Laura Adams, head of the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Academy, chaired the careers panel. Topics discussed included how former community news reporters have used the project to launch their careers.

The winners of the NCTJ’s community awards were announced by communications coach Alfie Joey, former BBC Newcastle radio host.

Other winners were: Emily Janes, Caerphilly Observer (Connecting communities in difficult situations); Sam Harrison, Bury Free Press/Suffolk News (Top light-hearted community story); Eleanor Lawson, Express & Star (Academic achievement award, Diploma in Journalism); and Megan Howe, Shropshire Star (Academic achievement award, National Qualification in Journalism).

Meta has contributed $17 million (£14 million) to the Community News Project over the past five years. However, it announced this month it would not continue to fund the scheme beyond its current phase, which runs into 2024.

Current contracts are not affected by Meta’s decision to end its involvement, and many community reporter roles – including Iona’s – will continue into 2024 as journalists complete their training.


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