Local News For Local People?

The impact of Local Democracy Reporters one year on

Last week’s local election results quite rightly made the headlines as they are one of the first serious measures of public opinion since the Brexit impasse set in.

But as party analysts and media commentators tried to decipher what the results meant with regards to the mood of the nation politically, the elections will also have kept another group of people extremely busy – the country’s 135 Local Democracy Reporters (LDRs).

Launched last February, the LDR initiative sees the BBC fund local journalists who are dedicated to covering stories about local councils and other public sector bodies on behalf of the local press.

More than 100 publishers and media owners now use this resource, along with the BBC itself, which means around 850 print, broadcast and online outlets carry stories generated by these impartial and independent ‘on the patch’ reporters.

The BBC’s investment of £8m a year to support the scheme of course wasn’t purely altruistic with regards to supporting the local papers – it was (at least in part) in reaction to claims that the BBC’s own hyper-local reporting was threatening the future of local media (and therefore threatening the future of local democracy).

And while some in the industry feel the LDR programme is still detrimental to local media, and that the way the system works in practice is complicated and flawed, our dealings with LDRs across many regional papers on behalf of national and local government clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

It’s true that you need to approach them differently (they are not allowed to base a story purely on a press release for example), but you can sign-post them to content and highlight certain events which you think might fit their strict editorial criteria.

We’ve also encouraged our clients to engage with them and demonstrate their transparency. For example, inviting their LDR to attend committee meetings rather than have them wait for the minutes to be published on the council website.

As a result of this proactive approach we’ve enjoyed substantial coverage for clients in influential regional titles for projects that would otherwise probably not have been covered, and we’ve always found LDR reporting to be fair, accurate and balanced.

Of course, it’s not ideal that a publicly-funded body like the BBC needs to shore up our local media, and as one very experienced regional newspaper editor said to us recently: “Every reporter should be a local democracy reporter”.

But compared to where we were last year – when some good and important stories weren’t being reported widely, and arguably some local authorities were not being called to account as much as they would have been in previous years – the LDR programme must be seen as good thing for both our local media and our democracy.

Richard-SKV-Communications

Richard Bond
Director of Strategy