Why you should consider becoming a local democracy reporter

With up to 150 roles around the country now dedicated to local democracy reporting through the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, you’ll regularly see vacancies being advertised as reporters move on. Leigh Boobyer, LDR for Gloucestershire, on why you should consider a job with a difference:

Leigh Boobyer

Lots of people don’t seem to have much of a clue about where Gloucestershire is on the map.

This is one of the first things I learned during a coffee with the leader of Gloucestershire County Council in my first month as the Local Democracy Reporter (LDR).

Describing where Gloucestershire is to out-of-county folk, I am often forced to over-simplify and say “it’s a bit north of Bristol”.

Even when I moved from London working at a national paper I had no clue where Gloucestershire was — despite growing up an hour’s car journey away.

But it is brimming with stories, intrigue, the odd scandal and plenty of fascinating politics. Being an LDR I believe I have helped unlock this and I know it’s the case right across the country.

WHAT DO LDRs DO AND WHAT HAVE I DONE?

An LDR will spend hours in meetings, often in the evening, keeping their ears pricked for even just a sentence or a shift in policy.

In doing so, more than 100 of us have filed nearly 50,000 stories in the space of a year telling the public what is going on in their county’s municipal offices.

One of those many stories includes one of my personal favourites: how a highly-paid chief fire officer in Gloucestershire sold a surplus service-vehicle to a company hundreds below the market value, later to buy it off them. This cost him, Stewart Edgar, his job and the entire episode is under police investigation.

Mr Edgar was also awarded an OBE from the Queen a month prior to his career-fatal decision for 27 years of service to local government. Brilliant. And it made it to Private Eyes’ Rotten Boroughs section, twice.

Another highlight was reporting on the failure of a computer system brought in by the Hospitals Trust in Gloucestershire, designed to record all patients’ data. The system, called Trakcare, provided by InterSystems, glitched and failed to keep a record of all activity taking place, causing the big hospitals in Cheltenham and Gloucester to go badly in the red. This story made it to the main bulletin on BBC Points West 6 o’clock news, the regional BBC show which serves the South West of England.

BETTER LOCAL COVERAGE = BETTER LOCAL POLITICS

It is important that these stories, and many others written by 130 LDRs, reach every part of the UK because there was previously a gap to fill in most areas that had so much potential but so few exploited it.

The scheme has so far been so successful that the News Media Association, which represents news brands in the UK, made recommendations to increase the amount of reporters from 150 reporters to 200, and on top of that it is due to be rolled out to Northern Ireland this year.

Before I became the LDR here I worked shifts for the online desk at the Daily Express, where I had no choice but to strictly write about the B-word on a daily basis for more than a year.

Moving to a local news website such as Gloucestershire Live only made me realise how vital local news coverage really is (and how much better it is). And that’s not even mentioning those who bring the stories to life, many of whom I work with and are the dedicated, hard-working journalists every newsroom should have.

All things considered, becoming an LDR will mean you will have more responsibility than many others, more freedom, a lot of fun but above all you could contribute to putting your area on the map as well.