In a speech to the Westminster Forum, Johnston Press boss Ashley Highfield outlined four areas of focus with the BBC, but added: “We still need to work through the numbers and we’re under no illusions how difficult that might be.”
The News Media Association (NMA), which is chaired by Ashley, and the BBC have been in talks for more than a year to find ways they could work more closely to strengthen local journalism as part of the corporation’s charter renewal.
Most discussion has focused on how the BBC could fund more journalists, potentially employed by local media groups, and take content from them.
Ashley would not be drawn on further detail beyond describing it as a “provision by the regional press to the BBC of a comprehensive reporting service primarily covering local authorities.”
Having journalists employed locally by professional organisations and providing content to the BBC would be a win for both parties – the local media would benefit from “a proper commercial framework for use of this content by the BBC”, he said.
Ashley said the other three areas being discussed with the BBC were:
- a video bank that would make BBC regional content available to local media partners free of charge
- a shared data journalism unit
- an agreement on better linking to local media content on BBC news sites and attribution to content originated in the local media.
An audit is also proposed to find the level of content which BBC sites use but which comes from other local sources.
Ashley said the BBC, the NMA and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale were inching towards a deal, but were at a “crunch point”.
“We are trying to reach an agreement on how it is going to work – how much, and when and where,” he said.
David Holdsworth, the Controller of English Regions at the BBC, told the forum: “The idea we might use some of the licence fee to fund reporters to report on local democracy for all comers is one I think we broadly agree on.”
He said the BBC would not employ the reporters in such a project, but that “some form of mechanism” would be needed to oversee it.