There could be some good news with extra media coverage of local democratic matters, with Wrexham set to get a new BBC funded reporter based out of Trinity Mirror’s Daily Post title.
The Daily Post’s Trinity Mirror owners and the Leader’s Newsquest owners have been awarded 100 new reporters by the BBC, in a scheme that has allocated 144 of the roles across the UK in an attempt to help mitigate the reduction in local democracy reporting by the big traditional newspaper groups, and the likes of the BBC.
As readers will know from our various tweets and reports from Council meetings things can be very thin when it comes to local democracy reporting. Usually we attend interesting meetings, the Leader often send a reporter, with the Daily Post’s previous attendance and coverage dropping off a cliff.
Unless we have a prison being built it is on the blue moon scale to see the BBC, ITV or others attend – despite previously having dedicated painted car park spaces in the council carpark.
Ourselves and the Leader here tonight at this meeting. Trinity Mirror could staff someone to live tweet a link to John Lewis ad music clickbait at a precise point a Im A Sleb ad break on Sunday night, but appears WCBC’s Guildhall is offlimits recently.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) November 23, 2017
Every month all news organisations also get the chance to quiz Lead Councillors and often the Chief Executive ahead of the Executive Board meetings in a media brief that is often brief in content or foresight too. Attendance to that is threadbare as outlined above, with the rules of the meeting saying any other questions on any topic are welcome too – something we try and take advantage of.
Due to the struggles in local journalism hugely dull but important ‘content’ appears to be under prioritised by those who assign staff, coupled with circulations plummeting and ‘landscapes are changing’ narratives.
UK Government has attempted to help by offering various business rates benefits in England to newspaper groups, plus the ongoing lucrative Statutory Notice rules continue to benefit an industry that should be keeping an eye on such terrible spending of your money (how terrible? look here for an example.)
To help plug the democratic reporting gap the BBC has launched a £8m a year scheme to fund local reporters, that will be embedded in news companies and will produce dedicated reports focused on local councils. This content will be shared with the BBC and those who ‘run’ the journalists, plus a range of other publications who have been accepted into the first phase of the scheme.
In Wrexham this should mean an extra set of eyes at Wrexham Council meetings, with the output for you the reader being one or two reports as you get now, plus another report that is syndicated around. The fear from many over the BBC scheme is it will be used as an excuse by news companies to actually cut their reporting, as why would a newsdesk allocate a precious resource to get the same information twice over.
With the news emerging this afternoon that the Daily Post will be running the Wrexham reporter on behalf of the BBC this clash may not occur, as they have not really been attending anyway.
In Wales all the contracts have been awarded to either Newsquest or Trinity Mirror as there is no longer any large family or independently owned media groups. As we reported, Newsquest recently took over the Leader’s NWN Media from Mojo Holdings, with a round job cuts shortly afterwards.
During the proposal stages of the scheme we were told the reporter jobs would be openly advertised and be new roles, clearly not replacing existing reporters or existing staff. If early indications are correct the jobs are currently being advertised internally at winning media groups, with a deadline of year end to apply. (UPDATE: The Digital Publishing Director for Trinity Mirror Regionals has told us that the jobs are being advertised externally – tweets here) The £8m sum was due to cover the ‘running’ of the reporter, with wages and a ‘small overhead’ built in, however the £22-23k pa wages on offer means the overheads could be more generous than expected.
The BBC announced the appointments saying the scheme will “improve the reporting of Wales’ 22 local authorities in a new deal announced today between the BBC and local media organisations”.
Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director BBC Wales said: “This is an important partnership which will significantly improve the reporting of local authorities and public institutions across Wales. It will enhance democratic scrutiny and improve the accountability of local decision-makers to the communities they serve.”
There was no detail to why the BBC was not already using their huge existing resources to report on councils more regularly themselves.
Wrexham.com applied and was successful to be part of phase one of the scheme, meaning we get access to the ‘feed’ from one or two of the reporters deployed by the BBC. Contrary to reports elsewhere we did not apply for phase two, as we explained during a brief trial of the scheme earlier this year. This position was mirrored up the road at Deeside.com .
As usual this is also reported on trade publication HoldTheFrontPage.co.uk, where the comments from those who work in journalism are often as interesting as the articles.