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Big groups win lion’s share of BBC local reporting contracts

HighfieldThe ‘big three’ regional press groups have won the lion’s share of contracts to employ up to 150 new BBC-funded reporters to cover council and public meetings across the UK.

Details of which news organisations have been awarded the contracts to employ 144 full-time and two part-time ‘local democracy reporters’ have been announced today.

Of the 58 contracts awarded, Trinity Mirror have secured 24, Newsquest 17 and Johnston Press eight, with the remaining nine split between smaller regional groups and hyperlocal publishers.

In terms of the reporters to be recruited under the £8m-a-year scheme, TM will employ 63, Newsquest 37 and JP 30.5, with Archant, the KM Group and DC Thomson each having two apiece.

Hyperlocal publishers who succeeded in securing contracts include the Hackney Citizen and Manx Radio, which will each employ one reporter, and the Lincolnshire Reporter, which will employ two.

One reporter will go to the London Evening Standard, while half a reporter is allocated to the Shetland News.

The BBC has so far declined to give a further regional breakdown of how the contracts are allocated within individual regions in England and Wales, but BBC Scotland has put out a separate announcement on the breakdown north of the border.

This shows that that Johnston Press will have 7.5 new reporters in Scotland, Newsquest five, DC Thomson four and Trinity Mirror four.

Today’s announcement follows a rigorous bidding process in which news organisations were required to prove their financial stability as well as a strong track record of relevant journalism in the areas they were applying to cover.

In order to qualify, it is understood that applicants had to provide sets of accounts dating back several years, which may have deterred some recently-formed companies from bidding.

The successful bidders will now receive funding top-sliced from the licence fee to cover employment costs of the reporters.

Once they have been recruited, stories written by the local democracy reporters will be shared with more than 700 media organisations that have signed up to be part of the BBC’s Local News Partnerships scheme.

David Holdsworth, the outgoing controller of BBC English Regions, said: “This is a major advance in the partnership which will significantly improve the reporting on councils and public institutions, leading to greater public accountability for our local politicians.”

News Media Association chair Ashley Highfield, pictured, added: “The ground-breaking Local News Partnership between the NMA and the BBC is now becoming a reality which will benefit the BBC, local media and, most importantly, local communities.

“The initiative has moved the whole relationship between the BBC and the local media sector from confrontation to collaboration, and key benefits will include 150 new journalists on the ground holding public institutions to account on behalf of their readers.

“Managed by local media and funded by BBC, the Local Democracy Reporters are just a part of a slew of collaborative initiatives that will see local media get access to BBC’s local video and data journalism.”

The partnership between the BBC and the NMA also includes a Shared Data Unit, based at BBC Birmingham, and a facility allowing local news providers access to relevant regional BBC video and audio content.

A small number of contracts are still to be awarded which will bring the number of reporters up to 150. The full breakdown of contracts awarded and reporters employed, by region and by company, can be seen in the tables below.

Contracts and reporters by BBC Nation and Region:

BBC Region Contracts Reporters
North East and Cumbria 3 8
North West 5 19
Yorkshire & Lincs 5 16
West Midlands 5 14
East Midlands 2 5
West 2 7
South West 1 3
South 5 13
South East 2 5
East 4 10
London 12* 13*
Scotland 10** 21.5**
Wales 4 11
TOTAL 60 145.5

*One contract for 1 FTE reporter currently unallocated
**One contract for 0.5 FTE reporter currently unallocated

Contracts and reporters by company:

Company name Contracts Reporters
Trinity Mirror 24 63
Newsquest 17 37
Johnston Press 8 30.5
DC Thomson 2 4
KM Media Group 1 2
Stonebow Media
(The Lincolnshire Reporter)
1 2
Archant Community Media 1 2
Citizen News and Media
(The Hackney Citizen)
1 1
London Evening Standard 1 1
Manx Radio 1 1
Shetland News 1 0.5
TOTAL 58 144


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  • December 7, 2017 at 7:23 am

    So essentially the same companies that have been laying people off willy nilly for the past decade get state-sponsored hacks to paper over the cracks?

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  • December 7, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Newsquest axes significant numbers of staff, but now in effect replaces the numbers thanks to state aid. This stinks.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I think ‘kell supreese’ would probably get through into print and on social media these days.
    I am a writer first and foremost, but what about photographers and subs?
    And I find it disgraceful that taxpayers’ money is being used to help companies that are all about profit, not product.
    A complete waste of funds.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

    In a sad way you have to congratulate Ashley and Co in pulling off this stunt. Run down your once-fine papers chasing the elusive digital gold and then get a bail-out from public money.
    Let us hope it ends the days of JP papers and others printing council press releases unchanged word for word without even a single question being asked. Maybe even a return of the local investigative story? Let’s not too excited, though.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

    It’s wrong that those companies laying off staff, reducing hours and increasing workloads thus dumbing down the end product and as a result lose thousands of paying customers both readers and advertisers ,are being subbed by the public purse whilst those at the top enjoy high salaries and big bonus payments likely as not based on and rewarding cost savings,eg; cutting jobs.
    I’ll bet Ashley and co will be lighting big cigars and laughing all the way to their banks.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Surely they should have just made the content available to any local publisher rather than proving taxpayer funded reporters to companies like TM who have cut so many jobs from the industry.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I’m furious about this. I run a hyperlocal and the dwindling resources at these regional groups has allowed us to cover our local area properly and also fund the venture; we use most of this to give grads an opportunity to get involved in digital publishing as work experience opportunities are now quite scarce. I’m livid that part of my licence fee will go to provide tax-funded reporters to profit making companies who will only use this as an excuse to cut more staff.
    It will also have an effect on our venture as they will now be able to cover parts of our patch they couldn’t dedicate resource to now.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Ah, now I understand.
    Newsquest keep banging on about having to sack subs, photographers, features staff etc etc in order to invest in front line reporting.
    What they really meant to say was they need to sack people to save millions and then get the BBC to pay for a few extra hands to maintain their cover story.
    It’s a great business model.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    The BBC has decided to award the agreement for ROCHDALE to The MANCHESTER Evening News despite the Trinity Mirror owned MEN not having an office based in the town, rarely if ever sending reporters here, and in Rochdale having a significantly smaller audience than Rochdale Online.

    We lost simply because the MEN is in “advanced discussions and agreement with a partner” (see reasoning and scores below) – which seems a bizarre reason to me, and shows the process was heavily weighted in favour of big groups – but the BBC has refused our request to know the name of the ‘partner’.

    E9 – The Manchester Evening News Scores
    Award Criteria Score
    Bidder Statement 70%
    Diversity and Equality 10.5%
    Partnership 15%

    E9 – Rochdale Online Scores
    Award Criteria Score
    Bidder Statement 70%
    Diversity and Equality 15%
    Partnership 7.5%

    Bidder statement – The responses from both bidders were comprehensive and addressed all the requirements set out in the question. Both bidders provided a detailed description of their history in the contract area and involvement in local democracy with a number of examples of campaigns and/or reporting on local government and democratic institutions. The submissions showed a clear understanding of the role of the Local Democracy Reporter and the benefits it could bring to the existing coverage of local government and democratic institutions. The responses were well supported by an excellent standard of evidence relating to audience growth, market share and content reach. The responses also demonstrated a strong commitment to staff development by providing details of internal
    training programmes used to supplement formal qualifications. The work examples from staff members were particularly impressive. Overall, the evaluation team was very impressed with the standard of the response from Rochdale Online and thought it offered a compelling proposition.

    Diversity and equality – The Manchester Evening News achieved a slightly lower of score of 7 for including its policy and describing a number of company-wide initiatives in place to encourage greater diversity. The links provided were for original content on ethnicity, gender and the importance of diversity for innovation in the workplace. Rochdale Online achieved the highest score of 10 for also including information on the diversity of its workforce and community partnerships.

    Partnership – The response from Rochdale Online received a score of 5 for demonstrating a willingness to work with other organisations. The Manchester Evening News provided evidence of advanced discussions and agreement with a partner to secure coverage of the contract area. This achieved a score of 10.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    I both sympathise and empathise with @TypoSpace in trying to run his small independent publishing business by doing all the things the bigger groups no longer do yet now faces a strengthened opponent unfairly funded by you and I , the tax payer.
    As already said the big chiefs will no doubt be lighting up big cigars and enjoying celebratory dinners at their incredible good fortune in getting staff off the payroll and being given replacements for free.
    It’s wrong

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  • December 7, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    This is utterly wrong. It’s not as if these companies don’t have the money to hire the reporters themselves – they simply aren’t willing to because it would endanger the obscene salaries and bonuses being dished out at the top of the tree. Left to their own devices, the big corporate dinosaurs would eventually die out as their quality continues to decline. Instead, these handouts are propping up their broken business model and making it harder for enterprising start-ups to fill the gap being left behind.

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  • December 7, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    I agree with Typospace. I run a hyperlocal, after quitting TM, following their appalling restructure and vandalism of local papers. I cover proper local news, something the TM papers in my area seemed to have stopped doing, and now MY cash is going to be used to pay for them to replace the reporters and colleagues they have axed. Why is that even allowed?

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  • December 7, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Extraordinary that utterly profit driven local newspaper groups, who have shed reporters, offices, photographers, sub-editors (basically almost all journalism staff) go cap in hand to the licence fee funded BBC, for reporters..!
    And I’m pretty sure that Ashley Highfield is paid far more as CEO of JP, and the DG of the BBC (£1 million v £700k, I think).
    Its the media world gone mad, as JP announce their i paper is making £1million profit per month!

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  • December 8, 2017 at 9:24 am

    The content must be offered to all local papers because the public is paying for these reporters.
    I cannot see any reason for this not happening.

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  • December 8, 2017 at 9:44 am

    A pathetic attempt by the BBC to pander to the Tories, Murdoch and the Daily Mail. If the BBC was really that interested in “local democracy” it would have taken on these journalists solely for BBC use rather than propping up inefficient newspaper groups with public money. .

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  • December 8, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    What’s the political breakdown of these papers? I recognise some as pro-Tory rags.

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