Regional newspaper groups have called on the BBC to stump up £14m to pay for 364 journalists to report on local council and court meetings to plug what they regard as a ‘democratic deficit’ in regional news coverage.
This follows a long period of retrenchment in the industry which has seen local papers shed staff to make ends meet and the closure of hundreds of regional titles amidst increasing online competition, primarily from the BBC’s own website.
Despite funding problems of its own BBC director general Lord Hall has previously expressed his willingness to fund 100 journalists in the regions in an operation run by the broadcaster to which local papers could then pitch for contracts – but this plan was shot down by newspaper executives concerned at a further erosion of sovereignty.
Instead three of the largest regional publishers; Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror and Local World (acquired by Trinity Mirror last year), propose to manage and instruct the new recruits directly from within their own local offices, with the BBC footing the bill for their pay.
Ashley Highfield, chief executive of Johnston Press, told the Times: “[The BBC] would be setting aside an amount to fund council reporting. But instead of the 100 journalists being employed by the BBC, and effectively being tanks on our lawns, the idea we are working through with them is that this could be an even bigger initiative with several hundred journalists. But they would be employed by us, and that is the difference, and commissioned to provide council and other quango reporting to the BBC.”
For its part the BBC stressed that any deal is still some way off as it seeks to find savings equivalent to £550m a year by 2021-22.