Some of the biggest names in the newspaper industry are set to receive free labour courtesy of the TV licence fee payer. A total of 58 news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales have successfully bid for the new staff, who they must now set about recruiting with a view to having them on staff in the next few months.
The news organisations will receive funding from the BBC to cover employment costs of the reporters.
The Scheme is designed to increase coverage and scrutiny of local authorities across the UK. It is funded by the BBC and run by media publishers, the reporters will offer in-depth coverage of our local authorities.
The key aim of the reporters is to ensure deep scrutiny of the way local government institutions operate, decisions they make and how they spend public money.
Requirements for reporters include being adept at identifying issues and stories buried in council agendas which need to be brought to the public’s attention.
The newsroom is described as being a multimedia digital newsroom in the centre of the city, close to train and bus stations.
Reporters will be expected to deliver written, audio and video content. Jobs have been advertised with starting wages at £22k.
The criteria for applications for the funded reporters has been set up in such a way as to exclude the many small hyperlocals, which have sprung up across the U.K and are already reporting on local government but more importantly filling a void at community level where Trinity’s titles fail to show.
There does appear to be an extremely narrow brief to the work of the reporters, which appears to be sitting in on local council meetings. If the main element of the new breed of BBC funded reporters is scrutinising local democracy, unfortunately for many they may find that for the majority of their time at the meetings, even if they have identified items of public interest at local government level, they will ultimately be asked to leave as more and more councils keep their business and decision making private excluding the public and press and discussing those items in camera. In general the public have to wait at least one month before minutes are published and the press unless fed a few titbits by rogue councillors will have to whistle.
The reporters may well do better to focus on some of the amazing work, which takes place daily at many local council offices. One would hope that they will turn up for the many events throughout the working week and on weekends where councillors support local groups, donate to organisations and join residents protesting against issues beyond their control. To focus on juicy items off the agenda is a disservice to the hyperlocal ethos.
There are a couple of silver linings for a number of hyperlocals as they join the BBC Local News Partnership, which gives them access to content and resources including video content. The Welsh Assembly Government may also provide some hope for the smaller hyperlocals as they plan to allocate £200,000 over the next two years towards hyperlocal news services. The criteria for applying for that money has not yet been published.
Some observers have questioned the logic in aiding massive, wealthy businesses such as Trinity Mirror and Newsquest when they have made so many redundancies. Some have pointed to the fact that licence payer’s money is being used to line the pockets of Wall St hedge funds (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/honest-ashley-youre-just-puppet-someone-elses-string-wall-waghorn/). Others commented: How the F*** is the London Evening Standard getting a freebie reporter? Employs Osborne on a fortune and is owned by a billionaire Russian oligarch.”
Award winning reporter Gareth Davies commented on Twitter: “Who gets the BBC’s local democracy reporters. Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, any increase in reporters, especially focused on public interest stories, should be welcomed. On the other, should so many go to the big publishers after they cut so many jobs?”
And: “I would have preferred to see a far larger proportion go to independent and community publications. The major publishers have chosen to put profits before maintaining reasonably staffed newsrooms, why should they be propped up by the taxpayer?”
Unions may not be happy at the prospect of the BBC supporting newspaper groups like Newsquest where reporters paid for by the BBC will be based at a time when editorial cuts are currently being made.
The BBC will be funding reporters at At Johnston Press where journalists wrote to the company urging a review of pay and staffing levels, after a recruitment and pay freeze.
Newsquest recently announced editorial cuts in Bradford, Darlington, Gloucestershire, York, Oxford, Bolton, Lancashire, Wiltshire and Isle of Wight. It’s now getting 37 reporters courtesy of the BBC.
There is also a suggestion that Trinity Mirror will be moving in to the new BBC building in Cardiff, which may raise further eyebrows and warrant more questions.