Local Democracy Reporting Service Contract Bids Open As Scheme Is Expanded

Publishers can bid to employ Local Democracy Reporters in their newsroom as all contracts are put out for tender.

The BBC has made it easier for smaller organisations to win contracts in the first of its planned retenders since the service was launched in 2018.

Meanwhile, 15 new reporter roles will be deployed to increase coverage of some second-tier council areas in England, increasing the size of the LDRS by 10 per cent.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service was launched by the BBC and the News Media Association to enhance local media’s scrutiny of public bodies.

Journalists funded by the BBC but employed by local news outlets report on the work of councils and other public institutions such as mayoralties, combined authority areas and NHS trusts. Stories are uploaded to an online news wire that any approved partner can use.

The majority of the current LDRS contracts were issued in early 2018. The new contracts will be effective from July 2021 for three years.

All 165 LDR roles are being tendered through 118 contracts, containing a maximum of three reporters compared to the current maximum of six.

The BBC hopes that reducing the number of reporters per contract, along with a number of other initiatives, will encourage smaller news organisations to bid.

Matthew Barraclough, head of the LDRS, said: “We set out to work with partners to address the democracy deficit: to have reporters back into town halls, politicians held to account and important local decisions aired through our local media.

“Many public bodies are being covered like never before and this is only going to continue as the LDRS moves into its next stage.

“Earlier this year formal review of this project made a number of recommendations to build on the success of the last three years. Encouraging a more diverse range of partners to consider employing a LDR and increasing the total number of reporters are both significant responses to those suggestions.”

Fifteen new LDR roles have been created, bringing the total number to 165. They have been allocated to two tier (county and district level) council areas that have been identified as most in need of more resource.

Reporters currently covering these areas may have a county council and several district councils to cover. They will share the reporting of the various councils and other bodies with the new reporters.

Funds for this increase have come from a reallocation of resources from within the Local News Partnerships’ budget. The LNP has a budget of up to £8 million a year until this BBC Charter period ends in 2027. 

JPIMedia editor in chief Jeremy Clifford, chair of the NMA/BBC Advisory Panel, said: “The local news media industry has played a vital role in providing highly trusted and accurate information to the public during the coronavirus pandemic and the journalism produced by the Local Democracy Reporters has been a significant part of this.

“We are pleased that the LDR service is being expanded as this will further enhance local media’s scrutiny of public bodies, and strengthen its ability to hold power to account.

“Since its inception, the Local News Partnership has created significant benefit for the public and we will continue to look at ways for this ground-breaking partnership to be developed.”  

In March the LDRS remit was expanded to allow reporters to cover COVID-19-related stories. Since then 20,000 stories on the topic have been filed.

In total, more than 175,000 stories have been filed to the democracy wire since its launch in January 2018.

A survey carried out in the week from September 28 to October 4 found 1,448 stories were filed, creating 3,761 stories online, in print, on TV and on radio.

More than 900 news outlets are signed up to the LDRS. Those who responded to the survey gave the LDRS an average approval rating of 7.8 out of 10.

Ken MacQuarrie, director of nations and regions for the BBC, said: “Since January 2018 Local Democracy Reporters have filed more than 175,000 stories, proving their worth time and time again online, in print and on our TVs and radios.

“We have had visits from journalists the world over keen to see how partnerships like ours can benefit the public at large, while creating a sustainable future for local journalism.

“This increase in Local Democracy Reporters is a vote of confidence for a service that continues to exceed expectations.”