Eighteen news organisations, including a number of hyperlocal publishers, have succeeded in winning BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) contracts ahead of the scheme's expansion. Media industry website, HoldTheFrontPage
reports that the BBC has revealed the successful bidders after the contracts were re-tendered ahead of plans to increase the number of journalists employed under the scheme from 150 to 165 from July.
The LDRS is part of the Local News Partnerships (LNP) between the BBC and the UK regional news industry, which aims to support public service reporting, sustain local democracy and improve skills in journalism. The LNP were created in 2017 as a result of an agreement between the BBC and the News Media Association which represents the majority of the UK's regional press, and a wider dialogue with other parts of the local news industry.
More than 150 media organisations representing more than 1,000 print, online or broadcast outlets are now local news partners. They are entitled to receive content generated through the BBC's News Hub which gives external media organisations access to video and audio material for use online; a Shared Data Unit, staffed by the BBC alongside reporters on secondment from local news providers, to share data journalism with news organisations across the media industry; and the LDRS scheme which is effectively a public service news agency – funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. It is like a franchise: different companies with different approaches, but using common editorial standards and all publishing into the same system.
Eight publishers, new to the LDRS scheme, have succeeded in bids for contracts including Dundee-headquartered DC Thomson Media which has been awarded five contracts. JPIMedia, Reach plc, Newsquest and the Shetland News
, Shetland's internet-only daily newspaper, are among those who have retained contracts. Here is a breakdown of contracts awarded for coverage of Scottish councils:
DC Thomson Media won contracts for coverage of Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Moray Council, Highland Council, Orkney Islands Council, Angus Council and Dundee City Council.
Reach plc was successful for bids to cover Stirling Council, Perth and Kinross Council, Renfrewshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council, Inverclyde Council, Glasgow City Council, West Dunbartonshire Council, Edinburgh City Council, Midlothian Council, East Lothian Council, Falkirk Council, West Lothian Council, South Ayrshire Council, East Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Borders Council and South Lanarkshire Council.
JPIMedia won contracts for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Clackmannanshire Council, Fife Council, North Lanarkshire Council and East Dunbartonshire Council. And, finally, Newsquest was successful in its bid for Argyll and Bute Council and the Shetland News
for Shetland Isles Council.
The BBC had increased the number of contracts on offer across the UK from 68 to 118 in an effort to make it easier for smaller organisations to bid. Reach plc remains the largest partner in the scheme after winning 51 contracts to employ a total of 75 reporters. JPIMedia will oversee 24 contracts worth 35.5 reporting roles, while Newsquest has won 23 contracts and will look after 28.5 posts. The remainder of successful bidders will all look after a single-figure number of contracts.
A BBC spokesman said: 'The result of this process means all local democracy reporting roles will be filled, and every area of the country will be covered. We have 18 suppliers for this period compared to 10 for the last period with, for the first time, a commercial radio station and a local TV station becoming suppliers. The partnerships have seen the work of councils and other local public bodies subject to independent, high-quality journalism – holding power to account and scrutinising the decisions of those in authority'.
Reach plc won 18 contracts in Scotland, and its chief audience officer, David Higgerson, said: 'We are delighted with the faith the Local News Partnership has shown in Reach's applications to run local democracy reporter contracts, not least because it has been an even more rigorous application process this year. We take this responsibility very seriously, to not only promote the health of local news but also to nurture some of the brightest new journalistic talent across the UK.
'During our time with the scheme over the past three years we have worked hard to produce stories which provide great content, not only for us but also for our other publishing partners. We believe whole-heartedly in the long-term importance of this scheme, which is why we have invested in additional infrastructure and senior journalists to support it.'
Thirty-five new editors have now been unveiled by JPIMedia since its takeover by National World. In recent weeks, the regional publisher has returned dedicated editors to a number of titles including Neil McIntosh at The Scotsman
and Murray MacLeod, a former editor of Gaelic language newspaper An Gàidheal Ùr,
at the Stornoway Gazette
National World chairman, David Montgomery, vowed to decentralise JPIMedia earlier this year following the £10.2 million takeover of the UK-wide publishing business on 2 January. In a welcome message to staff at the time, Montgomery asserted his belief that 'geographical and creative diversity overseen by local management will better distinguish our products, in both print and online, and in video and on mobile'.
He added: 'This strategy stands out from the current trend of media businesses pursuing a one-size-fits-all approach. National World will use technology to provide a more bespoke service to the communities we serve and forge a journalistic formula that replaces irrelevant or clickbait stories with exclusive content to enhance local lives'.
In its annual report, National World outlined what it called its 'Localise, Energise, Digitise, Monetise' policy, vowing to 'retain, recruit and develop talented people, appropriately incentivised and motivated, and provide them with the pre-requisite digital skills that will aid the execution of [the] strategy'.
Montgomery pointed out: 'We are pleased to have commenced the implementation of our strategy with the acquisition of JPI Group. We have already made progress with our "Localise, Energise, Digitise, Monetise" programme, empowering local news teams and re-energising titles. In addition, we have launched NationalWorld.com
, a website serving the whole of the UK, edited outside London and drawing on the quality of our regional publishing strength. We have exciting plans for the future and look forward to continuing the development of the business on a UK-wide footprint and securing new acquisition opportunities as they become available'.
National World, which incurred a £1.1 million loss during 2020, says it expects to make annualised savings of £5 million during 2021 with restructuring costs of £4 million.
In his chairman's report, Montgomery said that JPIMedia was undergoing a 'comprehensive overhaul' after seven executives left the business following the £10.2 million takeover.
He commented: 'The centralised structure is in the process of being dismantled, transferring resources to the local franchises to bring journalists and sales staff closer to the communities and the advertisers they serve. Content and commercial responsibility has been transferred to the individual franchises grouped in seven regions. Many titles, print and online, are in the process of being upgraded with richer and exclusive content. This accords with National World's strategy to introduce payment for premium online content at an early stage which recognises that original and unique local content is highly prized by social media platforms.
'Those platforms are now making payment for such content, including to JPI Group, and this trend is likely to increase either through voluntary arrangements or as seems possible through legislative intervention. The company is also planning to leverage the JPI Group market position and talent to launch new online products and exploit its UK-wide footprint.'
He added: 'The company expects to announce further launches and technology partnerships in the near future. These will be accompanied by a rolling programme of product enhancements and relaunches'.
The Fife Free Press
weekly newspaper has launched a new broadcasting initiative with its local ice hockey club. The Hockey Show
appears on the website of the Fife Flyers. The show features Allan Crow, editor of the Fife Free Press
, in conversation with Fife Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume.
The weekly newspaper previously ran a live stage version of the show in 2019. Announcing the new show's launch, Crow said: 'The aim now is to bring on players, past and present, to talk about hockey, life in lockdown, and share some memories of their time in Kirkcaldy. The Hockey Show
was launched last season when the Press teamed up with the club to host the live events at Styx in Kirkcaldy. They went down well with the fans, and plans were in hand to make them a regular feature of the season until the pandemic put the sport into abeyance'.