853 and the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme

Greenwich Council chamber
Being part of the LDRS means 853 can give you better coverage of council meetings and big planning stories

You may have noticed a few stories on 853 carry the bylines of “Local Democracy Reporters”. This is part of a BBC-funded scheme to ensure local councils are covered properly in local media. 853 has been a partner in the scheme since November 2018, and so receives some stories as part of it. Here’s some more on why and how this came about.

What is the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme?

LDRS logoThe LDRS was set up in 2017 to address the the decline of local council reporting. One of 853’s big selling points for a couple of years was that it was the only outlet regularly covering Greenwich Council meetings. The LDRS brought this to an end.

Each Local Democracy Reporter covers a number of local councils and is usually based at a local newspaper. The scheme has been criticised because many of the reporters are based at newspaper groups which have cut back their staff in recent years – however, 853 was given the opportunity to join and receive stories from it, so it seemed sensible to do it. That said, we do want to be transparent about how and why we’ve signed up.

Lewisham Gateway
It’s been harder to pick up Lewisham planning stories – being part of the LDRS will hopefully make this easier

Why is 853 using this copy?

At present, 853 has one part-time reporter/editor (Darryl). Being part of the LDRS means 853 can run stories from events that Darryl can’t attend. It also means the site can pick up more stories from Lewisham and, for the first time, Bexley.

853 will still be searching for stories that aren’t being picked up elsewhere and will still regularly cover the big council meetings in Greenwich (and elsewhere if necessary) – but being part of the LDRS provides some backup and the opportunity to pick up a few extra stories with wider resonance, particularly major planning stories just beyond the borough boundary.

Bizarrely, it also puts 853 in a better position than the Mercury and South London Press, neither of which are signed up to the scheme.

Hopefully, this means 853 can bring you broader and better coverage, without cutting back on what it already does well. We’ve big plans to make 853 part of something that can really do some good in making this part of south-east London better informed, and this is a first step.

Does this cost 853 any money?

No. It’s basically having access to a free newswire. The only cost as an evening preparing the application form. It’s no different from most of the national press having access to the Press Association or Reuters – just all about council meetings.

Who are the reporters?

Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich and Bexley (he also covers Bromley, but 853 won’t be running his stories from there). He has been reporting on south-east London and north Kent for a number of years and he is based at the News Shopper. If you live in Bexley or Bromley, you may also see his stories in the Kentish Times papers, which take them as part of the LDRS scheme.

Bridie Witton is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham (as well as Southwark and Lambeth) and is based at the News Shopper; while Jessie Mathewson is the LDR for the Greater London Authority and London Assembly, based at the Times series of local papers in north London.

To contact Tom or Bridie, see here. To contact Kate, see here.

Who runs the scheme?

The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is run by the BBC, with a small team based in Birmingham. However, the reporters are employed by the host news organisations and answer to them rather than the BBC. That said, their stories do occasionally appear on the BBC News website and they are trained to appear on TV or radio should the need arise.

I’ve got some more questions!

Drop us a line at tell853something[at]gmail.com. If you want to know more about the scheme itself, visit the BBC Local News Partnerships website.