The partnership between the corporation and the News Media Association, which will see 150 reporters employed by local press groups but paid for by the BBC licence fee, could begin in May.
Sarah Hartley, who works for Google’s digital news initiative team, says eight reporter positions have provisionally been allocated to cover councils in the North-East of England.
Sarah, pictured above left, revealed the figure after attending a BBC ‘hyperlocal forum’ at which it emerged that the corporation has divided the country into patches which reflect its own local news operations for the project.
Within those, the BBC has then “bundled” the local authorities which need covering and assigned a suggested number of reporters to each of the contracts to be awarded.
For example, two of the North-East contingent will be allocated to cover the BBC’s Teesside region – which includes authorities in Durham, Darlington and North Yorkshire.
But she says the way the geographical split has been worked out could deter independent publishers from bidding for the contracts.
On her ‘Dim Sum Digital’ blog, Sarah wrote: “I can’t think of a single independent news service which strives to cover such a large patch, so the only potential bidder would seem to be the established local Newsquest-owned paper (the Northern Echo). New entrants are considered ineligible – only news providers already up and running will be considered.
“Given that similar situations will apply to many (possibly all) places as most independent publishers generally cover a small geography in a deep way), it’s hard to see where the opportunity to bid for these contracts will occur.
“There was some disappointment about that situation expressed in the room today, alongside an understanding for the BBC’s position in attempting to find a way forward in managing this scheme in a reasonable, cost-effective way.
“One possibility is that, in areas where there is a hyperlocal already operating, there could be some sort of joint bid with the local newspaper to cover these large patches.”
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We are still consulting with the wider industry about the final proposals and how this service will work across the whole country whilst being cost effective. We’ll announce final plans in the spring.”