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Archive for the ‘democracy’ tag

Local news and the BBC’s local democracy reporting – an update

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For the first trip out of the office this year, I went along to the latest of the BBC’s ‘hyperlocal forum’ events today. It was the latest in the series of get togethers looking at how what’s being called a Local Democracy Reporting scheme, funded by the BBC licence fee, will operate across mainland UK.

A total of 150 reporters will be released into the world to report on decision making at top-tier councils in selected areas. Their reporting will be shared out (for free) to all participating news organisations in a move that’s intended to plug the democratic deficit that’s been left by local newspaper closures and constrictions.

The plans have evolved quite considerably since the event I attended last year – there’s even been ‘editorial trials’ in some areas – and the recruitment of the reporters is imminent (first half of this year).

If I go back to the earlier mentions of this scheme, there was some optimism that this would finally unleash a revenue source for those hard-working independents who have been plugging away reporting from their local authorities, often for no financial reward. But the way the scheme has been shaped is unlikely to deliver on that.

In order to effectively manage the contracts that will be needed to run the scheme, the BBC has divided the country into patches which reflect their own local news operations. Within those, they have then ‘bundled’ the local councils which need covering and assigned a suggested number of reporters to each of the contracts to be awarded.

As an example, in my home area, the North East, there will be money for 8 reporters (£34k per contract) across a huge geography of Tyneside, Wearside, Durham and Teesside.

Digging into the ‘bundle’ that covers my area (defined by the Beeb as Teesside) there will be just 2 reporters to cover the (vastly different and distant from each other) local authorities in Durham, Darlington and North Yorkshire.

I can’t think of a single independent news service which strives to cover such a large patch, so the only potential bidder would seem to be the established local Newsquest-owned paper. New entrants are considered ineligible – only news providers already up and running will be considered.

Given that similar situations will apply to many (possibly all) places as most independent publishers generally cover a small geography in a deep way), it’s hard to see where the opportunity to bid for these contracts will occur.

There was some disappointment about that situation expressed in the room today, alongside an understanding for the BBC’s position in attempting to find a way forward in managing this scheme in a reasonable, cost-effective way.

One possibility is that, in areas where there is a hyperlocal already operating, there could be some sort of joint bid with the local newspaper to cover these large patches.

The consultation is still running with the BBC continuing to talk with people about different ways of running the scheme and it will soon be put out to the industry with invitations to bid for the contracts.

Written by sarahhartley

January 9th, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Radio show features blogger’s Twitter ban

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The case of the blogger who’s been excluded from reporting live from Tameside Council has now been the focus of local radio attention.

Tameside Radio featured the case of Liam Billington (TamesideEye), which I first blogged about at The Guardian on Monday, and have released the following three audio clips – first Liam, then director of the think-tank POLIS, Charlie Beckett gives his reaction, followed by a statement read out on behalf of the council.

1. Twitter – Liam Billington

2. Charlie Beckett’s reaction

3. Tameside Council state their position ………and say they are now considering Liam’s request to tweet.
Broadcaster Andy Hoyle reads the Council’s statement.

As soon as I hear the outcome of that request, I’ll share it here although the wider issue which still stands here is whether the council (or any council) has the right to stop anyone tweeting from a public meeting.

Written by sarahhartley

March 11th, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Cabinet forum on local news: Lots of Qs looking for As


Some notes from this week’s discussion at the cabinet forum debate and dinner. It was an event with unusual format and, by way of explanation, the agreed rules around covering it are that all debates can be blogged, tweeted etc. without individual quotes being attributed to individual people.

In a variation of Chatham House rules, those present can also be identified and it was refreshing to see such a cross-section of voices represented at sessions hosted, by culture minister Sion Simon.

Newspaper reps including myself and The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger able to sit around the same table as bloggers such as Jeff Jarvis via skype, hyperlocal activists including co-chair William Perrin, industry analysts, civil servants, broadcasters, commentators, people with experience of the local news landscape both in the UK and US.

I make no apology that what I’ve noted here are things of specific interest to me, and are in no way an attempt to provide the definitive low-down of the event.

Others have broadened the experience further and there’s links here. These are my notes while on the train north with the addition of this excellent set of slides from industry analysts Enders.

• What do we call these people? I’ve blogged on this issue before and it keeps being raised at the sort of events I attend. Because someone wants to engage with a news investigation, write a blog or post about a community event doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be a ‘citizen journalist’. Some do of course, but many are simply using the wonderful tools at their disposal as a means to another end – better community, organise an event, change the world or whatever. Do they even need a specific pigeon-hole to fit into? Can they just be people? Engaged citizens? Is the publication part of their output really the most important element in what they do?

• How do large institutions, such as the government or a major broadcaster, ensure these hyperlocal voices are heard? At present there’s no association, guild, group, etc. to represent their widely differing interests. Should there be one, and if there was, how could it be constituted to be truly representative and inclusive? What a challenge that would be, but without it, some of the proposals in this area such as IFNCs risk becoming a non-inclusive consolidation of giants.

• Who should be treated as a journalist? Relates again to the first point but, for those people who do want to be treated as journalists, how do they get access to sources of information? This issue has already seen some plainly daft responses such as councils providing different tables in the same council chamber etc. I always go back to my first Penguin Book of Journalism here which carries wise words for the reporter starting out reminding them that they have all the rights and responsibilities of a citizen. No more, no less. Access is an area where any journalist with legal/public administration training could assist by helping challenge the petty bureaucracies in town halls. But that raises the point again – does training make a ‘proper’ journalist if so what’s the qualification? Or is it experience – if so which institutions count and how long does it have to be to qualify? Or is it an NUJ card?- so are we back to the closed shop? Does it require being employed by a publication registered as a newspaper? Well that’s plainly not sustainable. As journalists we’re not exactly being very transparent with this are we?

• Who will report from the council chambers and courts if local newspapers close or retract so much that staff are unable to fulfil this function? And there lies the BIG question. What will be the long-term impact on democracy? Will councils use that situation as justification for uncritical publications extolling the virtues of their services? People at the forum and generally, in my experience, seem to agree this sort of reporting is a Good Thing. But what’s it going to take to ensure that continues – just how Good a Thing is it? Subsidy? Tax-breaks? Platform agnostic service provision to all as outlined by PA at the Digital Editors’ Network later in the day? This is such a huge issue for the minister to wrestle with……any thoughts, contributions welcome.

Why I’m inviting you to Help Me Investigate this


The smart MEN foyer and another quote

The smart MEN foyer and another quote

“In journalism it is simpler to sound off than it is to find out. It is more elegant to pontificate than it is to SWEAT.” Harold Evans …”

So reads the writing on the wall at the Spinningfields HQ of the Manchester Evening News. It may not be the most-quoted of the pieces of text on display (CP Scott’s “Comment is free but facts are sacred” probably takes that honour), or as hip Ian Brown’s “Manchester’s got everything except a beach”, but it was always my favourite thought for the day on the way up to the editorial floor.

I think it sums up the toil and sometimes, frankly tedious, tasks that go into a lot of journalism. The unglamorous non-celeb, no free nosh, unearthing and fact-checking that goes into the day-to-day of news gathering and which is often overlooked, under-estimated or under appreciated in a world where PR is king and re-hashes commonplace.

It is exactly the sort of journalism that has always gone on in town halls across the country but which the critics of newspapers have been quick to claim is waning and politicians point to as justification for using taxpayers’ money to publish their own “newspapers”.

But away from all the heat and pontification, there’s very few facts and figures to hang onto. How much local authority coverage is carried out by your local newspaper? Has it declined? Is it on the increase? Do readers prefer celebrity news? Does it matter? Who cares?

No-one has the answers.

Which is why a couple of weeks ago I suggested a survey which would establish some bench-marks. It’s not the easiest thing to calculate, but, given the collaborative power of the interwebz, it is surely possible.

Thanks to Paul Bradshaw at HelpmeInvestigate, it will now be possible to co-ordinate this effort using the platform’s tools.

So far a dozen people have signed up to help and Paul is leading us through the various challenges which will enable us to submit details about newspapers in different regions.

Armed with some facts, who knows where this might lead? Btw, you don’t have to be a journalist to take part, simply someone who reads local papers and cares about this issue.

Want to come and sweat a little?  Invitation here.

Written by sarahhartley

September 8th, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Is your newspaper too sexy for its council?


For anyone following the ongoing row over council ‘newspapers’, this week has brought out issues which get to the heart of the matter.

Leaving the question of revenue aside for a while, the argument essentially goes like this;

The editors: We provide fair, accurate and, most importantly, unbiased coverage of what goes on in the local corridors of power.
Peter Barron’s column admitting to feeling a “warm glow” on reading about the Cornish county council scrapping its free monthly magazine summarises well.

The councillors: Local papers don’t provide a suitable level of coverage and are only interested in knocking stories.
Darlington councillor Nick Wallis’ broadside on the “one-eyed nature of the local press” sums this view up neatly.

But what of the readers? Are they getting the important information on decisions taken in their names in town halls across the country – from either source?

Some of the responses to Roy Greenslade’s article on the subject make for uncomfortable reading:

“I agree with Roy in theory, but in practice my local paper is unreadable and full of syndicated crap.

“And incidentally, the ‘pillar of democracy’ argument rings a tad hollow when you have five local papers and the press desk at council meetings is still sometimes empty,”

“I don’t buy my own local newspaper in this part of London because it’s very downmarket – it hasn’t responded at all to the changing demographic of the area”.

etc. etc. you get the picture and as HoldTheFrontPage has also pointed out to me, there’s more comments in the same vein on their posting here.

Which has left me wondering what the truth of the situation is. Personally I’d consider it a serious attack on democracy if the idea of ‘matter of record’ ends up becoming too unsexy to be worthwhile in the very publications we rely on to be our eyes and ears in the community.

Previously the bedrock of any local paper’s coverage, it would be interesting to know how many pages the average local paper now devotes to such reporting and what measures are in place to ensure it isn’t now put at risk by diminishing resources and office-bound reporting staff.

Maybe the power of the interwebs could be harnessed to carry out a snapshot survey of exactly what council coverage is currently being published in local papers.

A survey could work in the manner of a meme, with bloggers across the UK picking one day (or week if the enthusiasm for this is there) and looking at their local paper to quantify how many page leads, picture stories, single columns etc. deal with local authority decisions.

If you’d like to join me on something like this, let me know via the comments below.

Written by sarahhartley

August 28th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

links for 2009-03-22

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Written by sarahhartley

March 22nd, 2009 at 8:01 pm