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BBC calls on union to produce evidence over LDR ‘backfilling’ claims

Andy SmithThe BBC has challenged the National Union of Journalists to back up claims that local democracy reporters are “replacing” journalists in regional newsrooms due to positions not being backfilled.

The National Union Journalist says a meeting of reporters employed under the BBC-backed scheme has revealed the backfilling of posts in the newsrooms where some of them work is not happening, while claiming host newspapers are also breaching a number of other terms of the project.

The BBC’s head of local news partnerships Matthew Barraclough told HTFP in 2018 that the corporation does not release any funding for the LDR roles until proof of backfill has been provided in newsrooms where existing members of staff perform the LDR duties.

But the NUJ says it has been told by LDRs in some cases that they “were replacing reporters in the newsroom because backfilling of their posts was not happening”.

Under the terms of the scheme, the journalists are funded by the BBC and are allocated to news organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The BBC says it is continuing to carry out checks to ensure publishers are fulfulling the terms of the agreement.

A spokesperson said: “Every time a Local Democracy Reporter has been employed within a newsroom we have checked the contract of their replacement to make sure the role has been backfilled. No funding is released until this evidence has been produced. 

“Ensuring that all LDR roles are additional to the current staff in a newsroom is a key principle of the LNP and is something we are very stringent about.

“If the NUJ has any evidence that this has taken place we will investigate it as a matter of priority.”

According to the union, LDRs have also been put under pressure to get “hits” and meet targets by their host newspaper, which it says is “completely against the spirit of the scheme.”

Other claims made by the NUJ include:

  • Host newspapers were not putting out stories within the agreed deadline of 12 hours and many were not promoting the stories on social media.
  • LDRs were expected to put up their stories on the host newspaper’s content management systems and social media; this is not their job.
  • Gaps were still appearing because some newspapers were “forgetting” about certain boroughs.
  • Despite having had video training, there were no opportunities to use the skill.

The union says it also intends to make it clear to publisher Reach plc that LDRs should not be compelled to take part in one-to-one meetings the group’s other reporters are scheduled to have with their managers.

NUJ organiser Andy Smith, pictured, said: “There appears to be a huge variation in the way managers understand the scheme.  We can help through the group chapels in providing a collective voice in our discussions with the employers about the role of LDRs and help iron out these problems.”

The BBC is carrying out a review of the scheme, expected to be completed by the end of April, and re-tendering of the existing contracts will take place in “spring or early summer”, according to the union. The NUJ is also currently applying for union recognition on behalf of LDRs.

According to the union, those it spoke to also said they “enjoyed their role and could see the value their work was adding to local journalism”.

HTFP has also approached Reach for a comment.


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  • March 3, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Of course they aren’t. Most people on here said this would happen despite what was said by some senior management members, including on here even though examples were already being given in the same post containing the denials.

    This scheme should’ve had a far greater emphasis towards hyper locals and community groups.

    At the end of the day LDR reports are carried nationally by BBC news so aiding titles that are focused more locally and still aimed at providing actual local news would’ve held more benefit to the industry and the community as a whole.

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  • March 3, 2020 at 2:55 pm


    While I agree that more involvement from Community sites and hyper locals would be nice the reality is a legal and a financial one.

    The LDRs are paid by the BBC but all of their HR, insurance and training is handled by the contract holder (Reach/JPi/NQ etc). As is the providing of laptops, phones and other equipment.

    Also LDRs do not self publish. The reporters send stories through a wire that first have to checked by an editor for spelling (obviously) and legal issues. Smaller publications would require someone to have all the necessary legal training and also to be available at all times to publish the LDRs story in case of night meetings (bigger groups obviously have more people working at nights for example).

    The last issue is financial. While the BBC pays the wages of the LDRs, the expenses are paid by the contract holder. Some cover large areas and rack up a lot of expenses. Also, any candidate would expect a competitive expenses rate (for example JPi’s is 45p a mile for the first 2,000 miles) so the publisher would have to be able to meet that cost. The cost of traveling to and from BBC training is also paid by the contract holder not the BBC as part of the contract.

    I know the hyperlocal in my patch employs two people full time. With all respect to them, I don’t think they could afford to run and manage an LDR.

    I actually think the best thing for the scheme would be for the BBC to employ all the LDRs itself to bring more uniformity to the role. I know the way we treat our LDR differs greatly to other publishers.

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  • March 4, 2020 at 9:41 am

    While I think the scheme has been a huge boost to local newsrooms, I have heard countless times that LDRs are being treated very poorly by their host newsrooms. Their pay is inconsistent, their working conditions are worse than those of their colleagues and they are treated with hostility and suspicion. What a waste of a great opportunity.

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  • March 4, 2020 at 11:07 am

    I can only speak as I find, but our LDR round here is a former employee of one of the big media groups whose copy is seldom carried by the BBC – literally fewer than half a dozen stories in the past month on the local BBC website – and still does the vast majority of their work for their previous employer. They were not replaced when they became an LDR (though on this evidence it wasn’t really necessary to do so, since for all practical purposes they still do the same job as before; it’s simply that their salary now comes from the licence fee, not a PLC’s profits).

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  • March 4, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    I spent 12 months as an LDR at Newsquest and actually have to say they behaved impeccably throughout. I had come from a newsdesk at a local paper having taken redundancy and it gave me something for do for a year while I looked for something else. I was allowed to work from home/county hall, was trusted 100 per cent and all my stuff was put out onto the wire promptly. It was a job I left with a heavy heart – but sadly the wage is an insult.

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