The government is publishing its long-awaited White Paper on the future of the corporation later today.
It will include a commitment by the BBC to fund 150 journalists to be employed by regional media groups to boost coverage of local councils and devolved bodies.
The multimedia journalists, to be recruited from next year, will produce video, audio and written content to be used on BBC news bulletins and websites as well as on their own outlets.
They will remain under the editorial control of the local news groups employing them, but their content must meet the BBC’s editorial standards of quality and impartiality.
As part of the agreement, the BBC and local media groups will also create a shared data journalism unit, producing infographics, statistics, charts and other material to enhance coverage of local stories.
And local publishers will be able to access BBC local video and audio news through a new video “news bank”.
Said Ashley: “We believe this will strengthen and enhance local journalism, and the crucial role it has in holding local authorities to account, while maintaining the healthy competition between different news sources which is so important in a democracy.
“More coverage and content from councils will be more widely distributed ensuring greater accountability and transparency in an ever more devolved Britain.”
Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker, who has also been involved in the discussions, added: “Today’s White Paper outlines a sensible framework for further investment in local journalism and gives local news publishers the benefit of a much more collaborative relationship with the BBC, rather than the ‘tanks on lawn’ rhetoric of the past.
“Importantly, it recognises the unparalleled expertise and leading role that local newspapers have in providing the best local content and journalism for their communities up and down the country.”
BBC director of news James Harding said: “These plans are not just a milestone in the relationship between the BBC and the local press.
“These are big steps to strengthen local news. We will add 150 journalists reporting for their papers and BBC audiences alike. BBC video will reach more people through local newspaper websites.”
And Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell added: “The details will have to be carefully worked out but this agreement will help to build on the huge contribution of local and regional newspapers to local democracy.
“As the Regional Press Awards will show next week local journalists already serve their local communities with brilliant journalism but the industry needs and deserves this extra support in a challenging and ever changing market place.”
Under the plans, the number of “public service reporters” could increase to 200 by 2019 with additional funding from the BBC along with a possible contribution from any profits the regional titles make by running adverts alongside BBC video content.
There will also be an independent audit of the usage of local press content by the BBC on its media platforms and whether the BBC should do more to attribute stories to outside sources.
The National Union of Journalists has hit out at the deal and questioned whether local press groups would simply “exploit” the subsidy to fund staff cuts.
General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The NUJ opposes the use of licence-fee payers’ money to prop up local newspaper groups which have used profits to pay shareholders and executives fat bonuses instead of investing in journalism and enough journalists to cover courts and councils meetings.
National organiser Laura Davison added: “The NUJ believes there is a democratic deficit in local news – the press is not covering the decisions of courts, councils and public bodies in a way which properly informs readers about their democratic institutions. But should it be the licence-fee payer who plugs this gap?
“Local newspaper groups have a proven track record of cutting staff, merging titles, closing local offices and overstretching the few workers left on the ground just to maintain their profits. What checks are there that these groups will not exploit this licence-fee subsidy in the same way?
“The deal has been done behind closed doors with no consultation and no transparency; none of the practical details are clear and it would be totally bizarre to have people ostensibly working to the same aims and standards, but employed locally, by different groups, and on different, no doubt low, pay and conditions.
“There may be a case for the BBC providing content that can be shared with the local press, but this deal is not the best way to do it.”