Newspaper consortium chosen as news pilot preferred bidder

A CONSORTIUM of newspaper publishers – Johnston Press, Herald & Times Group and DC Thomson – has been chosen as the preferred operator of a planned news pilot programme on channel 3 in Scotland – funded out of the public purse.

The Scottish News Consortium – which also includes TV production company, Tinopolis – beat off a rival bid from a consortium including the current providers of Scottish news on channel 3: STV.

Should the pilots proceed – and the Tories have intimated they will abandon them should they win the General Election – the SNC will provide STV with content to broadcast in the slots already operating for Scottish news. STV was joined by Bauer Media and ITN in its bid to run the pilot, which is one of three identified for the UK, the other two being Wales and Tyne Tees/Border.

Johnston Press includes The Scotsman in its portfolio; the Herald & Times Group, The Herald; and DC Thomson, The Sunday Post.

The government funding for the three pilots has been set at £47 million over the next two years and the pilots are being set up in recognition of the fact that current operators, such as STV, were finding it increasingly difficult to cover the costs of producing news from advertising revenue.

It was Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – which has been overseeing the bidding process, with advice input from broadcasting regulators, Ofcom – who announced the preferred bidders to operate the three independently-funded news consortia (IFNC) pilots in Scotland, Wales and the Tyne Tees/Border.

The announcement followed an evaluation process completed by an independent selection panel led by Richard Hooper.

In Wales, the preferred bidder is Wales Live, comprising UTV (the current Channel 3 licence holder in Northern Ireland) together with NWN Media Ltd (a regional newspaper print and publishing company).

In Tyne Tees/ Border, it is News 3, comprising Trinity Mirror, Press Association and independent TV production company, Ten Alps.

The STV/ITN/Bauer Media Scottish News Network bid has been identified as a ‘reserve bidder’.

The pilots – should they go ahead – are scheduled to be up and running later this year.

Said Hooper: “The members of the selection panel and I were most impressed by the quality of the applications. We had to make some very difficult decisions, knowing that we would disappoint teams that had worked long and hard on their proposals. The overall quality of the submissions was high with companies both big and small working together. Bidders understood the implications of convergence, demonstrating how television, local newspapers, the internet, local radio could work together in new and interesting ways.

“In Wales and Scotland, in addition to strong proposals for regional, local and hyperlocal/community news, the bidders put forward credible ideas for quality news for those nations which is urgently needed as a result of devolution. We asked for innovation and were not disappointed. We asked bidders also to think about longer term sustainability without public funds. Given the political uncertainties surrounding IFNCs, my colleagues and I were particularly impressed by the sustained enthusiasm and resource commitment of the bidders and the momentum that has built up to deliver innovative multi-platform multi-layered news in Wales, Scotland and the Borders/Tyne Tees region of England, competing with the BBC.”

Added Bradshaw: “This is an important step towards our goal of ensuring choice for people who value high quality, independent local news. I’d like to congratulate all the bidders involved and all the members of the independent panel who under the Chairmanship of Richard Hooper have worked tirelessly to complete a thorough and rigorous process to ensure the preferred bidders are the right choice for Scotland, Wales and the Tyne Tees/Border region.

“The funding available to these consortia represents a massive commitment from this Government to help encourage the long term sustainability of news in the nations, locally and in the regions. I hope this focussed work will now continue with everyone working together to ensure these pilots are up and running by the end of the year.”

Said SNC chair, Mark Wood: “We have a unique opportunity to change the nature of news provision for the people of Scotland for the better, and we are confident that we will. Our radical plans will stimulate interest and debate around news at local, regional and national level. We will build on the proud tradition of independent thinking in Scotland by listening to and engaging with the people, so that the issues and stories we cover are ones which are important to them. We will give Scotland the service it deserves.”

Said the judging panel of the SNC bid: “SNC set out an imaginative and innovative cross-platform approach to news provision adding the reporting resources of its partner newspapers and a new website to a strong TV proposition. The proposals represented a clear sense of public value associated with a credible news alternative to the BBC in Scotland. The planned website would act as a portal to 130 local newspaper partner websites.”

In a statement, the SNC explained its plans: “The win for the consortium will lead to the biggest shake up of news in Scotland for decades. The SNC is committed to delivering much more local and regional news and plans much more interaction with its audience than any other news service. Its aim is to achieve a real increase in the audience for Scottish news. ScotlandFirst, the proposed name for the news service, will be a fully integrated television and online service with features including: * news where and when it happens with 50 additional video journalists situated around the country in consortium news officesl * cross-promotion to a state of the art website providing news from ScotlandFirst, encouraging audience comment and involvement and linking visitors on to a network of over 130 existing local and regional news websites; making the news more relevant for young people by interacting with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and by working with schools to encourage pupils to run their own newspapers and websites; and engaging the people of Scotland with fresh new programming such as ‘News from Your Neighbourhood’ which will be a two-three minute slot produced by local citizens from across the nation to let them raise issues or talk about the things that matter to them.”

It added: “The final stage in the process before ScotlandFirst can begin its service is for the SNC to agree separate contracts with DCMS and STV.”

Said a STV spokesperson: “STV will now look to engage with Scottish News Consortium to discuss the continued provision of a high quality news service to STV’s viewers.”