The recently launched Cambridge Independent is among 15 local news publishers understood to have qualified to bid for a share of 150 “local democracy reporters” paid for by the BBC.
The scheme is part of the BBC’s Local News Partnership, into which the corporation has claimed it will invest up to £8m a year for the next 11 years.
It aims to plug the so-called “democratic deficit” said to have resulted from staffing cuts across regional publishers that have hampered their ability to report on the actions of local authorities.
The first publishers to have passed phase one of the scheme, according to reports, include independent and hyperlocal news websites.
They are as follows:
- Brighton & Hove News
- Bristol 24/7
- Cambridge Independent (Iliffe Media)
- Hackney Citizen
- Jesmond Local
- Lincolnite (Stonebow Media)
- Lincolnshire Reporter (Stonebow Media)
- Nantwich News
- Scarborough Reporter
- VIEW Digital
- West Bridgford Wire
- West Leeds Dispatch
- Your Harlow
- Your Thurrock
The Cambridge Independent launched in September last year and was named Weekly Newspaper of the Year (below 15,000 copies) at the Society of Editors’ Regional Press Awards for 2016.
Keith Magnum, editor of independent newspaper the Hackney Citizen, told Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism: “Holding local councils to account is as important as it’s ever been. We hope the BBC Local Democracy Reporter scheme will help us bring an increasing number of in-depth political stories to our readers.”
West Leeds Dispatch editor John Baron told the university: “Our interest revolved simply around being able to access any content around local council meetings – it seemed too good an opportunity for us to miss.
“As a hyperlocal publisher with a day job, we can’t always get to meetings and we thought it’d be a good way of accessing content we might not otherwise have access to.
“I’m hopeful the scheme will benefit The Dispatch and other hyperlocals but the proof will ultimately be in the pudding (and editorial decisions on what gets covered will ultimately lie with whoever is managing our local reporter).
“It may be that the content isn’t localised or ‘hyperlocal’ enough for us. We’ll see.”
The Local News Partnership, created with the News Media Association, will also open up access to an audio/video “news hub” of BBC content for use online and a shared data journalism unit.
The BBC’s head of local news partnerships, Matthew Barraclough said: “The Local News Partnerships have been drawn up to be as inclusive as possible while at the same time requiring a commitment to high editorial standards.
“The partnership is open to any qualifying provider and we would encourage small independent news publishers to apply in the next round of approvals.”