CONTRACTS to employ ‘Local Democracy Reporters in Scotland’ have been granted to a range of media organisations as part of a ground-breaking partnership.
The allocation of 20 full-time and two part-time contracts marks the latest step towards the creation of a pool of reporters to cover council and public meetings across the UK.
Contracts to employ an initial 144 full-time and two part-time Local Democracy Reporters have been allocated to 58 news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales following a competitive bidding process.
Those news organisations – ranging from a radio station to online media companies and established regional newspaper groups – will now receive funding from the BBC to cover employment costs of the reporters.
Once recruited, the reporters will write stories which will be shared with more than 700 media organisations that have signed up to be part of the Local News Partnerships scheme.
As part of its Charter commitment, the BBC is investing up to £8 million in the Local News Partnerships during the next nine years to the end of the Charter in 2026.
Gary Smith, head of News and Current Affairs, BBC Scotland, said: “This is the start of an exciting partnership to expand public service journalism across Scotland.
“One of the key functions of journalism – whether it is broadcast, print or online – is to hold publicly-funded bodies to account. This pioneering partnership will provide a valuable service for audiences and newspaper readers across Scotland.”
The partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association also includes a Shared Data Unit, based at BBC Birmingham, and a facility allowing local news providers access to relevant regional BBC video and audio content.
The Shared Data Unit will utilise BBC teams and seconded journalists from the wider industry to develop data journalism expertise. The first regional journalists to be seconded started on November 20.
Ashley Highfield, chair of the News Media Association, said: “The ground-breaking Local News Partnership between the NMA and the BBC is now becoming a reality which will benefit the BBC, local media and, most importantly, local communities.
“The initiative has moved the whole relationship between the BBC and the local media sector from confrontation to collaboration, and key benefits will include 150 new journalists on the ground holding public institutions to account on behalf of their readers.
“Managed by local media and funded by BBC, the Local Democracy Reporters are just a part of a slew of collaborative initiatives that will see local media get access to BBC’s local video and data journalism.”
To be awarded the Democracy Reporter contracts, the 58 successful news organisations had to pass stringent criteria which included financial stability and a strong track record of relevant journalism in the area they were applying to cover.
The award decisions were made by senior editorial BBC figures across the English regions, Wales and Scotland.
In areas where a single contract contained multiple reporters, some successful bidders opted to share the allocation with neighbouring news organisations. The next step will be for the successful organisations to start recruiting, with a view to becoming operational in the next few months. A total of 150 local democracy reporters will eventually be employed once all contracts have been awarded.
The BBC partnership with other media organisations in Scotland follows the announcement earlier this year of a significant increase in investment for BBC Scotland which will further expand its journalism.
Subject to regulatory approval, the broadcaster is planning to launch a new TV channel next year – BBC Scotland. The £32 million budget for the proposed channel, which would have an integrated hour-long news programme, includes a new investment of £19m.
Note to editors:
Breakdown of the contract awards in Scotland
Johnston Press – three contracts, 7.5 reporters
Newsquest – two contracts, five reporters
DC Thomson – two contracts, four reporters
Trinity Mirror – one contract, four reporters
Shetland News – one contract, 0.5 reporters
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