853 and the Local Democracy Reporting Service

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 Reporting Service?

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 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.

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 was an evening preparing the application form. It’s no different from the national press having access to the Press Association or Reuters – just all about council meetings.

Who are the reporters?

There is currently no Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich, a role which also includes covering Bexley and Bromley. The contract is held by the News Shopper, whose parent company Newsquest has chosen to leave the role vacant until its contract ends in June – leaving 853 on its own covering council matters in Greenwich.

Lachlan Leeming held the role between December 2019 and November 2020; we used stories from Tom Bull between November 2018 and August 2019.

Grainne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth and is based at the News Shopper. Her predecessor, until September 2019, was Bridie Witton.

Both the Greenwich and Lewisham roles will switch from the Shopper to Reach plc, the publishers of MyLondon, from July.

Joe Talora is the LDR for the Greater London Authority and London Assembly. He is based at the Times series of local papers in north London, but will transfer to the Evening Standard in July. Until December 2020 this role was held by Jessie Mathewson.

To contact Grainne, see here.
To contact Joe, see here.

Very occasionally, you may see bylines for reporters for other areas whose stories have been made available for us to use: Rachael Burford, for Tower Hamlets and Newham, based at the Evening Standard; and Ed Sheridan, for Hackney, who is based at the Hackney Citizen.

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.