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BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter scheme to complete UK rollout in Northern Ireland this summer

Local Democracy Reporter Northern Ireland

The BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporting Service will roll out to Northern Ireland this summer, 18 months after the scheme went live in the rest of the UK.

The expansion will bring the total number of LDRs to 150, BBC England director Helen Thomas (pictured) confirmed at the first Local Democracy Reporting Service conference and awards ceremony on Tuesday.

Since its launch in January 2018 the BBC has funded 144 LDR roles reporting on local authorities for regional publishers and broadcasters across England, Wales and Scotland.

The launch of the scheme in Northern Ireland was delayed due to “some resistance” resulting from differences in the local news market and structure of local government, the BBC said in November last year.

Three pilot roles were put in place and a BBC spokesperson said they were “cautiously optimistic that an appropriate solution can be found”.

LDRs have filed around 90,00 stories since the service was launched in January 2018 as part of the Local News Partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association.

Speaking at the conference at the BBC in Salford, Thomas praised the “power of local reporting” and said the LDR scheme had been a success “within the BBC, across the media industry and in the corridors of power”.

She said: “We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. There’s a new culture of collaboration that has emerged.”

Thomas added: “We all know the difficulties, the changes in media consumption have had on the news industry as a whole. That’s why what we’re doing with the Local News Partnership is so admired and seen as part of a sustainable model for the future of local journalism.

“Other countries are beginning to notice too. We’ve had interest from America, from Canada, Italy, and from Scandinavia. In fact, in New Zealand a pilot based on this scheme has now been launched.

“They see partnerships like this as one of the solutions to the challenges of funding important local journalism.”

The NZ$1m pilot scheme launched by public broadcaster Radio New Zealand, broadcast funding agency NZ On Air and a group of newspaper publishers earlier this month will see eight journalists recruited to report on local authorities and other public bodies.

As with the UK’s scheme, copy filed by the New Zealand reporters will be shared with all media outlets signed up to the service.

The scheme could be expanded further in the UK, as recommended by the Cairncross Review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK.

JPI Media editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford, who is also chair of the NMA/BBC advisory panel, told the LDR conference: “It is right that we now look at ways in which this scheme could be expanded for the benefit of local news outlets, the BBC and, most importantly, the public.”

The BBC also proposed a new charity to fund local news reporters earlier this year, with money coming from outside the public broadcast corporation.

Thomas told the conference that plans for the Local Democracy Foundation were “in progress”.

At the award ceremony of the inaugral conference, Gloucestershire Live journalist Leigh Boobyer was named the LDR of the year prize.

Picture: Karen Wright

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