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New era for local journalism? BBC to pay for 150 reporters to cover councils and court

The BBC will make a landmark move to fund 150 reporters to cover councils and courts across the country, sharing their resources with local news website and papers.

Last month SalfordOnline.com was one of around 20 papers and websites in the North West to be asked to sign up for Greater Manchester Local Live, the BBC’s new live feed service.

But it was acknowledged that indies and one-man bands, however impressive their work-rate and willingness to cover daily news, did not have the resources or manpower to cover court cases or sit in council meetings.

From 2017 the Guardian reports that the BBC will pay £8m a year to allow 150 journalists to feed video, audio and data journalism content back to local news providers.

It not yet known exactly how this will work but it’s thought publishers will have to bid to employ journalists funded by the BBC.

The industry as a whole has seen a severe decline in the quality and frequency of local news, especially in the time-consuming and complex areas of covering legal issues and court cases.

The conglomerates which own newspapers have continued to slash budgets and cut jobs, allowing independents like SalfordOnline.com to pick up a large share of the readership and advertising market.

James Harding, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs said the plans would “enhance local journalism, ensure greater accountability of people in public life and enable BBC audiences and newspaper readers to get better coverage of what’s really happening in their communities.”

He announced: “We will add 150 journalists reporting for their papers and BBC audiences alike. BBC video will reach more people through local newspaper websites and, together, we will harness the potential of data journalism to improve our reporting of public services and institutions across the country.”

Local news providers will have to meet qualifying criteria and be selected via a bidding process to employ the BBC-funded recruits. The BBC is currently working with the NMA on how this will work.

The NMA chairman, Ashley Highfield, said: “We believe this will strengthen and enhance local journalism and the crucial role it has in holding local authorities to account, while maintaining the healthy competition between different news sources which is so important in a democracy.

“More coverage and content from councils will be more widely distributed, ensuring greater accountability and transparency in an ever-more devolved Britain.

“As the market leader in local news provision, the local news media industry has long been keen to explore a more positive relationship with the BBC which would be of real benefit to our readers and licence fee payers.”

Main image: David Dixon via geograph.org

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.