30,000 and counting: The changing face of council reporting

A year ago today, the deadline for publishers to apply to become part of the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, passed. A year on and 126 of the 147 roles are now operational, with the 30,000th story filed this week. Matthew Barraclough, the man leading the scheme inside the BBC, reports:

Two papers, one story, one byline: Staffordshire LDR Kerry Ashdown’s bus story led two newspapers

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has filed its 30,000th story.

It was a landmark moment; a Local Democracy Reporter filed the 30,000th story produced by the service. It happened last week and was a moment to celebrate and reflect. But it was just a moment, as number 30,001 almost immediately dropped into the feed behind it.

Today, more than 128 Reporters are covering the decisions taken by public bodies on behalf of communities; decisions that affect peoples’ lives, involve taxpayers’ money and impact on the places people live.

They are the decisions that should attract media scrutiny but in the last decade or so have often gone under-reported or even unreported.

We launched the Local Democracy Reporting Service earlier this year as part of our Local News Partnerships. The model is simple: the BBC funds the service and administers the distribution of stories; existing news organisations employ them; and everyone in the partnership gets to use the content.

It’s focused on a very specific “democratic deficit” — scrutiny and fair reporting of the hundreds of local councils across the UK. The aim was common to the BBC and its key strategic partner the News Media Association, as well as other stakeholders in local news. Soon, there will be 150 of these Local Democracy Reporters across the country.

With councils facing major financial challenges, and some like Northamptonshire struggling to balance budgets, there has never been a more important time to be reporting these public bodies that have such an impact on our daily lives.

And there have already been real successes. High-impact stories by Local Democracy Reporters have been making front pages, filling websites and leading bulletins across the country.

There are many examples of great journalism being produced every day — there isn’t space here to do them justice. But just check out this Twitter list to see what they’re producing: https://twitter.com/Jgibbins/lists/local-democracy-reporters

Perhaps it’s best summed up by my governor, Tony Hall, who said this week that working with local news was a “partnership we can all be proud of”.

He went on to say: “It’s already having an impact on local democracy.”

He’s right. We have heard from many places that the presence of these reporters is changing for the better behaviour and decision-taking in town halls. So what’s next?

Some sceptical voices against our original partnerships have been impressed enough with the results so far to suggest the LDRS is extended, perhaps to court reporting. But right now the job in hand is supporting our Partners to recruit the final LDRs and making sure this scheme delivers its objectives. And produces the next 30,000 stories.

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