What does the BBC Local Democracy Reporter Scheme mean for hyperlocals and community news publishers?

By Emma Meese | 2nd Feb 2017

 

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The BBC have officially announced their ambitious plans to spend £8m-a-year to fund 150 new jobs in local journalism.

Read the announcement here.

The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme (LDRS), a partnership between the BBC and News Media Association (NMA), promises to address the shortage of public service reporting in news poor areas of the UK.

Since the scheme’s inception in 2014, the Centre for Community Journalism has taken part in cross-industry discussions as part of the Local Journalism Working Group.

The multimedia content that will be produced, covering all manner of local democratic institutions, will enhance the output of publishers, and ‘build a better understanding of local democracy’.

The BBC’s aim with this scheme is to offer best value for money to the license fee payer, which they feel would be best achieved by tackling the democratic deficit across the UK.

Sitting alongside representatives from national news agencies, broadcasters and established print and online publishers, C4CJ along with Nesta the Carnegie Trust UK represented the views and opinions of the community news sector, and advocated on their behalf.

The BBC understands the value of our sector and recognises the need to engage positively in order to achieve its goal.

However initial proposals were restrictive to the majority of publications in this sector.

Balancing the BBC’s need to protect tax payer’s money with engaging as many small publishers across the UK as possible has been challenging.

A stumbling block has been expanding this deal to incorporate sole traders, of which there are many across the hyperlocal sector.

As the BBC deemed it too risky to provide money to an individual to employ a reporter for the first time, initial proposals excluded any publishers who did not already employ another reporter.

We have succeeded in opening up the scheme to many more community news publications by ensuring anyone with a proven track record of contemporaneous public service reporting is now eligible to receive all content generated from the LDRS.

Alongside our negotiations with the BBC, we have been working on establishing a representative body for the Independent community news sector. We have been working around the clock to ensure we are in a position to accept members by the time the BBC scheme formally launches the LDRS.

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In doing so, all members who join the network will agree to adhere to the Editor’s Code of Practice and will have access to a robust complaints procedure, which are the remaining criteria to be eligible to receive content from the NewsBank and the LDRS

For anyone wanting to bid for a contract to employ an LDR, as well as meeting the criteria to receive content, they had to demonstrate an ability to handle payroll, overheads, holiday cover, sick leave, etc. In other words, currently employ someone.

It was thought too risky to give public money to what the BBC considered a ‘start-up’ business.

Whilst a vast number of hyperlocal publishers are well established in their communities as news providers, they do not have the HR experience listed above.

This clause was hugely problematic for our sector. While some are currently employers, many operate a variety of other entrepreneurial business models.

The LDR contracts have been ‘bundled’ across the UK and partnering with other publishers to bid for a bundle will be looked upon favourably.

We have worked with the BBC to make this more accessible to sole traders and volunteer-run publications.

The need to be an existing employer remains in place for those wishing to bid for a single contract, we have succeeded in getting that condition lifted for smaller publishers wishing to partner with larger organisations to bid for a bundle.

If one partner is an existing employer, potential partnerships can be formed between hyperlocals, community radio, local TV or local and regional press.

The size of the organisation is irrelevant, as long as one partner employs at least one person in a journalistic capacity.

Feedback from the last hyperlocal forum convinced the BBC to reconsider some of the bundled contracts, which got a mixed response from attendees. Subsequently, the BBC has re-jigged some of the bundles, but not all.

Whilst there may be some benefits to employing an LDR (reputational, financial) we feel the most important part of this scheme is access to the content which we have ensured is available to many more publishers than before.

The BBC is also launching a Data Journalism Hub, which originally had the same eligibility criteria as employing an LDR. We argued that this was too restrictive for members of our sector, and as a result, this part of the scheme is now accessible to those who match the criteria to receive content from the LDRS.

As well as having an interest in investigative and data journalism applicants will also need to prove they can share their learned knowledge with other journalists.

This is easy for those who work for larger organisations, as they can train their colleagues on their return to their day jobs, however, could be more problematic for small publishers.

We can help hyperlocals wishing to apply for this scheme by providing workshops and resources to share their knowledge from the data hub with the rest of our sector.

The positions at the Data Hub will be treated as BBC secondments, with trainees receiving a contribution to living and travel costs as well as a salary. Twenty-Four trainees will work at the Data Hub over a two-year period.

For more information, follow the link to the BBC blog published today (2/2/17)

Anyone wishing to engage with the LDRS or Data Hub, feel free to contact us for more information. We want as many people in our sector to benefit from this scheme as possible.

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