BBC recruits five to revamp local politics

BBC Nations and Regions is looking to recruit five reporters to forge links with communities in a bid to find local politics stories, as part of the corporation’s plans launched last year to overhaul its politics coverage.

The journalists will engage with people in Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, Sheffield and Cardiff, initially as part of a four-month, web-based pilot project by BBC News and BBCi to commence in the autumn. They will then develop stories for regional radio and television news based on their contact with local people and their political interests and activities.

Called iCan, the project is based on the BBC’s research, overseen by former Newsnight editor Sian Kevill, into why people are turned off by politics and its portrayal on television. One of its findings was that the public was interested in politics but not in the way in which it is filtered down from the “Westminster Village”, Martin Vogel, co-leader of the iCan project with Kevill told Press Gazette.

Vogel said iCan grew out of the BBC’s politics review, in which, he added “we engaged people alienated from mainstream politics to give them pathways to negotiate the issues they are interested in. From the research, it’s people’s neighbourhoods that are of interest.”

The research that prompted iCan found that news audiences had been falling over the 10-year period from 1993, and were down by up to 25 per cent among the under-45 age group, the most disillusioned with conventional politics.

Project iCan will serve as a web-based resource where local communities can access details of civic activities that may be of interest, such as campaigns for or against local government proposals and initiatives, on transport, healthcare and the environment, for example.

Users of the database will be able to obtain details of their MP and councillors by typing in their own postcode. The site will also link to organisations and individuals that may be able to help people interested in a particular issue.

The journalists will be expected to encourage people to use the sites to pursue their local political interests, while on the lookout for stories and people to feature in radio and television programmes.

“In each area, we’ll appoint a journalist to be the main editorial resource for the sites. If there are good stories emerging, we’ll do normal editorial coverage of them,” Vogel said.

Public access to iCan will be through the BBC Where I Live community websites.

If the pilot is successful in generating stories, iCan will go nationwide, Vogel said. The number of journalists that would service the project will be determined then.

By Wale Azeez

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