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July 17, 2018

One fifth of BBC-funded local democracy reporter roles still to be filled six months on, but scheme said to be ‘progressing well’

By Freddy Mayhew

There are still 30 vacancies for BBC-funded local democracy reporters just over six months after the scheme launched at the start of this year, with 115 of the 145 roles having been filled.

The scheme, part of the Local News Partnership agreement between the BBC and the News Media Association, was created to tackle the so-called “democratic deficit” caused by local press cuts and closures.

LDRs are expected to cover local government, filling gaps in newsdesks, and make their copy available to other organisations – although they are contracted to, and typically based at, a specific regional news publisher.

The BBC has said the scheme is “still in its early stages” and is “progressing well”, adding: “Some local authorities are experiencing a level of journalistic scrutiny not seen for years.”

But, sources from within the news industry have expressed concern that some LDR roles have been offered to those with less than the required experience, with job ads calling for senior reporters to apply.

A relatively low salary of between £22,000 and £25,000 is also said to have stopped more experienced journalists from taking on the roles.

The BBC told Press Gazette filling the positions quickly, given the requirement for senior journalists, was “always going to be a challenge” and that hiring was progressing “in line with expectations”.

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A spokesperson said: “The scheme has attracted some very impressive journalists and the LDRs in place have a mix of skills and experience. Naturally, in some areas, competition was fiercer than in other areas.”

Readers have at times struggled to identify their local democracy reporter, with one claiming on Twitter that a generic byline had been used on a story. Another even asked: “What does a local democracy reporter do?”

The BBC is investing up to £8m annually into the Local News Partnership as part of its Charter commitment to the end of 2026. The roles are paid for via the licence fee.

The lion’s share of LDR contracts were awarded to the UK’s largest local newspaper publisher, Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror). Scotland was awarded the largest number of reporters out of the nations and regions.

Helen Thomas, BBC England director, said: “Having only launched six months ago, the partnership is clearly still in its early stages.

“The Local Democracy Reporters scheme is generating a huge amount of public service journalism, which can be used by our partners and the BBC. Some local authorities are experiencing a level of journalistic scrutiny not seen for years.

“Our Shared Data Unit has already produced an impressive portfolio of stories and the news hub will be launching soon offering certain BBC material to our partners.

“This is a unique, pioneering partnership and a huge investment in local journalism. We believe it is progressing well and we’re encouraged and excited by the results so far.”

A BBC spokesperson said that the scheme was not intended to be “a shot in the arm for the local news industry”.

They added: “The aim of the partnership was to increase coverage of underreported issues, extend the availability of BBC local journalism, and to improve the overall richness, breadth and quality of the UK’s local news provision.”

The News Media Association said: “The recruitment of the Local Democracy Reporters is in line with expectations with most of the positions filled.

“The Local News Partnership between the BBC and NMA is already delivering significant benefits for local communities across the UK with thousands of local news stories generated by the scheme.”

The remaining 30 vacancies are all in mainland UK.

Picture: Pixabay

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