The partnership plans announced yesterday represent a new commitment by the BBC to local news. The plans haven’t been put together lightly. It has taken two years to get to this point, with our Local Journalism Working Group and the News Media Association working hard to come up with an agreement that works for all.
The result is a ground-breaking partnership. We will continue to compete editorially and to provide our own local news online, on radio and on television but we will be taking innovative steps to work with other organisations to ensure that local life is well reported and local decision-makers are better scrutinised. We feel there is a benefit not just to BBC audiences but society more widely by working in partnership: we have much in common and we all recognise the benefit of a thriving and diverse sector.
As an idea, the news bank illustrates how we can partner with other organisations. We intend to make all our local video and audio content available to third parties to use on their local websites, once it’s been broadcast or published by us. Other news providers get access to high quality content and the BBC’s journalism reaches more people. We need to fully understand how this might impact on those people currently selling video in this market but in principle it is a great way to get more value from existing content.
The idea of funding a new cohort of reporters to ensure that local democratic institutions get the attention they deserve was a controversial one. In the discussions that have taken place of the last twelve months we’ve allayed the fear that this is about BBC expansion to the extent that we’ve agreed to provide more reporters than first envisaged. There will be 150 new journalists reporting on councils and public bodies, employed by existing news providers and making their stories available to all news outlets in the area.
We are serious about being better partners. If you care passionately about your audience and treasure the trust they place in you, your desire to maintain the highest possible standards can make you an awkward bedfellow. But openness and collaboration is the spirit of the digital age and we are doing a number of things to demonstrate that: we’ve formalised our stance on crediting other people’s stories, we’ve committed to providing more links to other sources of news, we’ve started to talk to bloggers and small news publishers about how we can work together.
As a publicly-funded organisation we have an obligation to not just serve our own audiences but also to help ensure that the media landscape in general benefits from our presence. Sharing content in this way will not homogenise local news in the UK. There will still be competition for stories, different agendas and plenty of choice. But it will make material available that we know will usefully support other news providers, large and small.
We are witnessing the beginning of a new era and it feels good, but now the hard work really begins as we work together to get everything ready to go at the start of next year. Watch this space.
David Holdsworth is controller of BBC English Regions