Last month the BBC outlined its proposals to be part of the revival of local journalism.
Last month the BBC published its Charter Review: Future of the BBC 2015 document outlining its proposals to ‘open up’ and work with the local and regional press, to be part of the revival of local journalism.
Nesta, alongside other organisations, has been working with the BBC during the last year as part of a local journalism working group. The group’s purpose is for the BBC to consult regional and local partners on collaborative activities, and strengthen external links to local and hyperlocal news provision.
Several of the proposals outlined in the review have bypassed any such consultation, however, and this has left many wondering if the last 12 months has been futile. So, what are the concerns and opportunities of the proposals, and what could the BBC be doing instead to support the provision of hyperlocal public service media?
In particular, the proposal of a fund to create local public service content for BBC services, and to facilitate a network of 100 local reporters has been scrutinised. And without specific reference of hyperlocal publishers in the wording, these proposals look to perhaps pander to traditional regional press rather than being wholly inclusive, which has frustrated many working in hyperlocal media. Judging by the general reaction from traditional regional press groups, however, ‘indulged’ and ‘satisfied’ they also are not, as Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield commented recently, “It looked to us like BBC imperialism through the back door. The whole idea was flawed. Essentially, by hiring more journalists, it meant the BBC putting another workforce into the regions who could well end up competing with us.”
Soon after the review’s publication, Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) asked the BBC about the implications for the hyperlocal media sector. The BBC responded with:
"We are consulting with the hyperlocal industry to assist and improve the way we work together. That will continue as planned and we welcome the sector's further input on today's Charter proposals.
On the specific proposal regarding the reporting of civic institutions we envisage that all local and regional papers, agencies, journalism start-ups or citizen bloggers, as well as BBC teams, could bid to provide the reporting for their city or county."
This response added to the disappointment of many hyperlocal publishers and those supporting them, in that the BBC somewhat sees the two activities as separate, rather than symbiotic. Here’s my blog from July outlining the BBC’s consultation with hyperlocal publishers.
Furthermore, this proposal seems vague and not robustly considered. For example, ‘100’ public service reporters is an arbitrary figure rather than being based on specific needs reflecting local communities or geographic areas.
At the last working group meeting on 18 September, the BBC did clarify that instead of a prescribed number of 100, the emphasis would be on the available funding (enough to cover up to around 100 reporters), which although less rigid is still not particularly useful. The BBC also indicated that the available funding would be divvied up across different regions and that groups of media organisations could bid together. In which lies a significant barrier to hyperlocal media – most independent community publishers, especially those running a one-person service, simply don’t have the resource or influence to be part of this process. Consequently, it will mean there is still a risk in local communities - where there is no presence of traditional press, or there is a lack of plurality of local journalism - of a deficit of local public service information being covered and surfaced.
Where we see opportunity for the BBC to serve local communities and hold local public services to account, lies not in a new fund and structure run by the BBC, but in supporting and showcasing the resource already on the ground. As we have outlined in our recent report with C4CJ, 'Where are we now? UK hyperlocal media and community journalism in 2015', the BBC should buy and publish content, paid for by the unallocated funds set aside for local digital television programme services (L-DTPS), to help sustain - and potentially grow - the sector.
The BBC should also continue and scale its activities to more effectively link to external hyperlocal content. This is already starting to happen – as I detailed in my report in May - with its Local Live and hashtag-linking projects now including hyperlocal content, which is a welcome development. However, these activities are yet to be implemented in Wales and Scotland, and the BBC could further develop this activity, for example, by including Local Live streams on its mobile apps.
The BBC should open up its archive to hyperlocal publishers. One proposal outlined in the Charter review does describe intentions to create a ‘news bank’ and to “make available its regional video and local audio pieces for immediate use on the internet services of local and regional news organisations across the UK”. However, this activity could be extended to other, non-news content, which hyperlocal publishers could access, free of charge, and use to showcase the history and culture of their local community.
The BBC’s proposal of a shared data journalism centre is another positive step, as long as access to services and resources is not arduous or burdensome to hyperlocal publishers – in a financial sense as much as time – and that the data is relevant to the local audiences they serve.
The BBC should also be doing more to facilitate knowledge sharing and upskilling. Again, some activity that has already started to happen – with a data journalism training day in January, and another day on social media scheduled later this year. However, minimal BBC resource has been allocated to these days and on each, only 10-15 hyperlocal publishers invited / allowed to participate. Other cost-effect training and resource sharing would benefit hyperlocal publishers, for example inviting publishers to BBC studios where they could utilise equipment.
On the back of the BBC’s consultation with hyperlocal publishers, which closed on 30 September, and within future local journalism working group sessions we will continue to feedback on developments and further proposals. By continuing to work closely with the BBC we hope to steer conversations and activities in the direction that will benefit not only creators and providers of hyperlocal public service content, but also of the local communities that they serve.