The BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporting Service has expanded to Northern Ireland, where journalists have watched with an “envious gaze” since the scheme launched in the rest of the UK almost two years ago.
The expansion has created five-and-a-half new full-time-equivalent roles, bringing the total number of LDRs to 150 – the target set by the BBC and the News Media Association at the scheme’s inception in 2017.
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Eleven news organisations representing more than 35 print, online and broadcast titles have signed up as partners to use the new reporters’ stories, which will cover 11 council areas.
LDRs Jessica Black and Michael Kenwood (both pictured) are based in Reach’s Belfast Live newsroom, and Black was the first to file a story from the area last week about an ice bowl regeneration.
Belfast Live editor Chris Sherrard said: “The Local Democracy Reporting Service is something we have watched with an envious gaze our colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales pursue with excellence since its implementation.
“Being part of that has been a goal of all those in Northern Ireland who hold the virtue of scrutinising local government dearly.
“We’re delighted to be at the point we are now where that process can begin in earnest.
“The real beneficiaries of this, of course, will be the people living in these council areas who will now get to read about everything that is relevant to them and their lives.”
Another reporter, Tanya Fowles, has started work at Newsquest’s the Impartial Reporter while recruitment for further roles to be based in JPI Media newsrooms has begun.
Although three pilot roles were put in place last year, the Northern Ireland launch was delayed due to “some resistance” resulting from differences in the local news market and structure of local government, the BBC has previously said.
BBC Northern Ireland head of news Adam Smyth said getting the scheme off the ground had fostered an “unprecedented” level of co-operation between the BBC and local newspaper industry “and can only benefit local democracy”.
“I have no doubt the scheme will advance public service journalism and I look forward to the community gaining greater insights into the workings of our district councils,” he said.
The Local News Partnership was developed by the BBC and the NMA in conjunction with the wider news industry to support local public interest journalism.
Its LDRs have now filed more than 100,000 stories, which are made available to the BBC and the more than 950 local news outlets in the partnership.
The BBC opened the scheme to UK news platforms aimed at black, Asian and minority ethnic communities last month to help their journalism reach a wider audience.