BBC 'local' plans to make 300 jobs

The BBC has shown Press Gazette revised plans to create a new network of local news services across 60 regions which will see up to 300 new journalism jobs created.

The online plan is a slimmed-down version of a local television pilot launched across six areas of the West Midlands in 2005 on satellite and broadband.

Proposals for the BBC to expand into ‘ultra-local’video news online have been hugely controversial, prompting claims from the regional newspaper industry that it will smother their own fledgling online operations and lead to unfair competition.

The BBC insists that the new scheme is not ‘ultra-local’but just an enhancement of existing coverage.

The new plan is for the BBC to introduce video content to its local websites across the UK that could see between 250 and 300 new video journalist jobs created over five years if approved.

The revised local plan will seek to tackle the concerns of the regional press by introducing a number of self-imposed limits to the BBC’s local news activities.

It proposes to limit the number of videos it will do daily on each site to around 10. The BBC’s agenda will be limited to news, sport, weather and travel and not the potentially commercially profitable areas of online classifieds, property and holiday listings and horoscopes.

The BBC is also looking to boost traffic to local newspapers’ sites through features highlighting other news providers’ top stories and providing click-throughs.

The BBC will also offer its own branded video content for use on other sites, though it will be broadcast from a BBC server.

The corporation also told Press Gazette that it will provide an extra income stream for local newspapers by setting up a fund to buy in video news from them.

The plan is being coordinated by David Holdsworth, deputy controller of BBC English regions, who was behind the West Midlands pilot.

He said: ‘We are not intending to become more local in terms of the service areas we provide for. We have just under 60 areas across the UK which either have a website or radio station. We have a proposal to enhance what we do, but it’s not a plan to become more local.”

He added: ‘We want to operate as a local broadcaster, not an ultra-local broadcaster. I believe ultra-local news has been quite properly populated by local newspapers for generations and by their websites going forward.”

One potential BBC website template seen by Press Gazette uses a mapping tool with video, audio and text icons dotted across a region for each story. A user can click on an individual video story from the regional map or watch a 90-second video summary of stories from across a region.

The cost of the proposed roll-out in 2013 is expected to reach £23m a year, found from savings made in the regions. ‘We are trying to find more efficient ways of running all our traditional television and radio services,’said Holdsworth.

The BBC has been in discussions with interested parties since the scheme was revised last October, including the Newspaper Society, the trade body for the regional press.

Santha Rasaiah, the political, editorial and regulatory affairs director of the NS said: ‘The only part the BBC has really dropped was the satellite television plans. The plans based upon its local online services, its radio stations’ websites and WhereILive sites, of course, remain.”

The proposals are set to go to the BBC Trust this week, which will then make a decision on whether to hold a public consultation by the first week of June.

A consultation process, looking at public value and market impact, would take around six months.

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