When the BBC announced that they would be putting £8m into 150 non-BBC ‘Local Democracy Reporters’ to cover goings-on in councils and local institutions, we might have been forgiven for thinking they were planning a worthy sponsorship of exciting new ground-level projects.
But, as it turns out, most of the benefactors are large conglomerates, such as Trinity Mirror, Newsquest and Johnstone Press. Reported here in The Press Gazette.
The much-admired Salford Star pulled out from the application process. Their board told the BBC, “To us it seemed administratively complex and there were doubts about reporter freedom.”
Editor Stephen Kingston said: “‘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 initial coverage can be found here.
Dan Hind, author and presenter of Media Democracy Podcast said,
“We’re always hearing that we need more independent, local journalism. But 90% of these ‘Local Democracy Journalists’ will be employed by just three large corporations. Between them, they reported profits of almost £200 million last year. “These companies are not local. They are not democracies. And, even though they make lots of money, they have to be given public subsidies to do actual journalism.
“The eligibility requirements were set up in a way that made it very difficult for small community-led operations to qualify, and impossible for start-ups. If you wanted to give a subsidy to large, commercial newspaper groups without saying so out loud, it would look a lot like this scheme.
“There are better ways to support genuinely independent local journalism that could be structured so that both staff and readers have a voice in how they are run.
“Many UK news providers are emerging on such lines. The BBC could provide 79 democratically structured start-ups on The Bristol Cable model with an operating subsidy of £10,000 a year. And £1000,000 a year to the Cable, so that they can help the others get up and running.”