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Hyperlocals blast BBC democracy reporter scheme as ‘total sham’

mike jempsonHyperlocal news outlets have criticised the BBC’s decision to award the majority of ‘local democracy reporter’ contracts to the ‘big three’ regional press groups.

Of the 58 contracts to employ the taxpayer-funded journalists, 49 were awarded to either Trinity Mirror, Newsquest or Johnston Press, with the remaining eight split between smaller regional groups and hyperlocal publishers.

Of the successful hyperlocals, the Hackney Citizen and Manx Radio will each employ one reporter, and the Lincolnshire Reporter will employ two.

However, other hyperlocal publishers have criticised the way the contracts have been awarded.

Salford Star editor Stephen Kingston said: “This so-called scheme for local democracy reporters looks to us like a total sham. The news groups that have benefited from BBC funding have been sacking journalists for years in the relentless pursuit of more profit.

“The reason they do not hold public bodies properly to account, or report consistently on council meetings, is that, firstly they haven’t got enough journalists because they’ve sacked them all, secondly because these stories are neither easy to research, nor do they usually farm thousands of readers for advertisers, and thirdly, because it’s less time consuming cutting and pasting press releases from the police, councils or wherever – or nicking Salford Star stories.

“This is BBC public money subsidising lazy, unscrupulous publishers. Unfortunately, the BBC just hasn’t got the balls to support non-profit media that has no vested interests, other than giving the community a voice and holding authority to account – issues that the mainstream media gave up prioritising years ago. If the community wants a proper media, as always, we’re going to have to continue trying to do it ourselves.”

The decision has also come under fire from independent online newspaper Cornish Stuff.

Its official Twitter account posted: “BBC subsidises trash media is the story here. Big companies sack proper journos, because the click through rate and therefore ad revenue is crap for proper stories compared to laughing hyenas. It’ll still be at the bottom of the scroll.”

And Mike Jempson, pictured above left, director of journalism ethics charity MediaWise, wrote: “‘Alternative’ papers are not allowed public grants, but commercial newspapers snap up subsidies from licence fee payers who were never consulted.”

According to Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism, which recently established a trade body for hyperlocal publishers, 22 hyperlocal titles have successfully bid to receive content through the scheme.

Its official account posted: “Content is not produced for the BBC or ‘employer’ exclusively. Content, once created, is available to all partnering organisations simultaneously, including employer. Whether it’s a good use of public money, We’ll have to see.”

HTFP has approached the BBC for comment.

5 comments

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  • December 18, 2017 at 11:17 am
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    So the three big groups, having saved money by cutting out staff, now have the gall to take taxpayers’ money to feed stories back to the BBC instead of concentrating on what readers want from their local papers. Council stories etc may be “boring” to some editors but council taxpayers want to know how council tax is spent or whether it is being wasted – but you need reporters to do that.

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  • December 18, 2017 at 11:47 am
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    Couldn’t agree more with this. Utter cop out.

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  • December 18, 2017 at 11:47 am
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    I fail to see what’s in this for anyone concerned. The big boys have taken no interest in these sorts of public-interest stories for years on the grounds that when it comes to digital reach, the public aren’t interested in them, and that’s all that matters. If the BBC is hoping to garner some favourable PR it’s barking up the wrong tree because readers generally either don’t know or don’t care who writes what they read, and is more likely to get a good kicking from the usual suspects for blowing taxpayers’ cash propping up the industry’s ailing despots, as the story suggests. I suppose TM, NQ, JP et al might try to portray it as investment in quality journalism, but only a moron would be fooled by such a transparent falsehood. And I’m not altogether convinced by the numbers in the story; if the ‘big three’ got 49 contracts between them, why is TM alone advertising for 64 new hacks on this very page, and JP for 30?

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  • December 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm
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    The rules of this are very clear – titles will be audited and are not allowed to remove any jobs based on the BBC funded Local Democracy reporter, this will be checked. – and the content produced is simultaneously available to the titles that have won the right to share stories, whether they have a funded journey or not. I’m no fan of the regionals mentioned, but in this case this story is simply wrong.

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  • December 18, 2017 at 12:02 pm
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    On the last point, Steerpike, because some of the contracts are for more than one reporter. There are 58 contracts in all, and 144 reporters.

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