The Leighton Buzzard Observer and its sister titles in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire will be taking on four local democracy reporters to help cover council and public meetings in the region as part of the BBC’s Local News Partnerships.
Contracts to employ an initial 144 full-time and two part-time reporters have been allocated to 58 news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales following a competitive bidding process.
Those news organisations – ranging from a radio station to online media companies and established regional newspaper groups like Johnston Press, owners of this newspaper – will now receive funding from the BBC to cover employment costs of the reporters. The new local democracy reporters will be based in our newsrooms and will be providing even more scrutiny and coverage of local authorities across this region.
With print and digital titles across the region, we reach hundreds of thousands of people every month. Our titles are part of Johnston Press, which has led the way in developing the ground-breaking national scheme with the BBC under the direction of chief executive Ashley Highfield.
David Holdsworth, Controller of BBC English Regions, said: ‘This is a major advance in the partnership which will significantly improve the reporting on councils and public institutions, leading to greater public accountability for our local politicians.’
Ashley Highfield, CEO of Johnston Press and chairman of the News Media Association (NMA), added: ‘The ground-breaking Local News Partnership will benefit the BBC, local media and, most importantly, local communities.
‘The initiative has moved the whole relationship between the BBC and the local media sector from confrontation to collaboration, and key benefits will include 150 new journalists on the ground holding public institutions to account on behalf of their readers.’
As part of its Charter commitment, the BBC is investing up to £8m annually in the Local News Partnerships during the next nine years to the end of the Charter in 2026.
To be awarded the democracy reporter contracts, the 58 successful news organisations had to pass stringent criteria which included financial stability and a strong track record of relevant journalism in the area they were applying to cover.