The BBC has laid out “ambitious” new plans to expand its local democracy reporting service, recruiting new reporters to cover local councils as well as extending coverage to magistrates’ and sheriffs’ courts.
But the expansion is entirely dependent on the scheme, which is funded and run by the BBC, with the help of the News Media Association, finding new sources of financial support from outside the corporation.
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To this end a new standalone non-profit body will be established to run the Local News Partnership, which includes the 150 local democracy reporters, a shared data unit and a news hub for content.
The expanded services will launch in a “stepped approach”, according to the BBC, with more added as more money is raised.
It plans to first hire a new of cohort local democracy reporters to increase the depth of council coverage and that of NHS Trusts, although it has refused to say how many new recruits this would entail.
BBC director general Tony Hall said: “It’s never been more important to invest in local journalism.
“The 150 reporters we’ve funded through the Local News Partnerships have made a real difference to local communities, giving people the information they need to hold those in power to account.
“Now it’s time to go further. I want businesses and other institutions to join with us so we can get even more reporters into local communities – and give people the local journalism they deserve.”
Ken MacQuarrie, director at BBC Nations and Regions, added: “We have ambitious plans to do even more to support local news in the UK because we believe in local journalism.
“The extent of the expansion would depend on us securing external funding partners but we think there is an appreciation of the importance of local journalism and the need to support it.”
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. It now has more than 900 local news outlets involved.
To date, the reporters have filed more than 100,000 stories, which are made available to everyone in the partnerships including the BBC.
In one week, local democracy reporters generated 3,500 local news stories across print, online, TV and radio, the BBC has said.
NMA chief executive David Newell said: “The Local News Partnership has produced clear benefits for local journalism, and it is right for us to now look at how it could be expanded.”
The shared data unit is made up of BBC staff and journalists seconded from partner news outlets. Reporters are given training by the BBC and help produce data-led stories. The unit has generated nearly 800 stories for partner newsrooms.
The News Hub gives local news websites access to BBC video news content. The partnership has recently been opened up to news providers aimed at ethnic minority audiences, having previously only been open to news outlets classed as local.