Putting a face to local news

Your Local Democracy Reporters keeping Devon and Cornwall informed

This article explains how the BBC funds journalists to provide a Local Democratic Reporting Service as a partnership between the BBC and local news organisations. [The Watch first reported on the BBC’s intention to do this in 2015, but it took until 2018 to happen]

The online article features Local Democracy Reporters: Ed Oldfield who covers Torbay and Plymouth;  Richard Whitehouse, Cornwall; and our own, and much valued, Daniel Clark who covers Devon.

Only Daniel is featured in this post (to see the others’ profiles go on-line).

 It’s good to be able to put a face to local news. [Followers will recall that the Times paparazzi snapped Owl unawares earlier in the year].

Nevertheless, there must be concern that we have to rely on a single source of Local Democratic Reporting as the Government “goes on manoeuvres” over the “impartiality” of the BBC.

Devon Live www.devonlive.com 

In these unprecedented times, it has never been more important that the facts of what is happening are reported.

Everywhere you look, you can find some sort of conspiracy theory and someone with an agenda to drive, and that muddies the truth around the most important issues of the day.

Getting to the bottom of what is happening is not always easy and certainly not quick – and in a world where journalists are under more and more pressure to hit ever increasing numbers and volumes of targets when there are fewer and fewer of them remaining – the sometimes dry, complicated and detailed world of local councils, politics, and statistics could easily be put aside.

This is where the Local Democracy Reporting Service comes in. The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) was set up in 2018 in a unique partnership between the BBC and local news organisations such as Reach PLC, which publishes DevonLive, CornwallLive and PlymouthLive as well as the Herald Express, North Devon Journal, Express and Echo, Mid Devon Gazette, The Herald, West Briton, Cornishman, Cornish Guardian and the Western Morning News.

The journalists are funded by the BBC as part of its latest Charter commitment but employed by regional news organisations, with nearly Local Democracy Reporters having been allocated to 59 news organisations in England, Scotland and Wales.

The partnership has enabled reporters to get back into council chambers (once physical, now virtual), shining a light into the corners of local authorities and reporting on what has been happening.

Stories are then written, uploaded to a wire and distributed to all partner agencies, including our traditional ‘rival’ newspapers to use as they wish.

And since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in March, nationwide, Local Democracy Reporters have published more than 15,000 stories relating to coronavirus – covering everything from the daily statistical updates, the impact of council finances, how individuals and businesses have been affected, and the knock-on impacts that the lockdown will have going forward.

All of this has run alongside the usual business of covering council activities – although rather than putting reporters back in County Hall as originally planned, it has seen us dial it Zoom calls or watch meetings live on Youtube.

Virtual meetings have enabled democracy (and subsequent reporting of it) to carry on throughout the pandemic, but every reporter is longing for the day the words ‘you’re on mute councillor’ is a thing of a past.

Daniel Clark

Daniel is the LDR for Devon – mainly focused on covering Devon County Council, as well as when time allows, the eight district councils – East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council, North Devon Council, South Hams District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Torridge District Council, and West Devon Borough Council, plus Dartmoor National Park

Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark (Image: DevonLive)

Coronavirus has been the main thing on everyone’s mind and lips this year, so it would be churlish not to mention it, but making sure that the facts and figures, and the latest comments, warnings and advice from the county’s Public Health Team is a vital part of the job – many stories could be mentioned, but here is the latest.

The other major story that has been in the news this year has been around race and the Black Lives Matters movement following the death of George Floyd in America. It has led to councils across Devon to re-examine their relationship with their historical past, their current relationship with minorities, and allowed those from BAME communities to tell their story in an attempt to affect change.

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan was due to be the major blueprint for development across large swathes of Devon – covers East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge. Plans for thousands of new homes, including a second Cranbrook, relocating service stations, a sports hub etc were due to go out for consultation – but following a vote from East Devon, the GESP is now dead.

Exmouth seafront remains one of the most controversial sites in Devon – with the long awaited plans to regenerate the site having hit yet more setbacks this year. It may seem an age ago, but back in February, it felt like movement was finally being made when councillors backed the marketing exercise for the site, but since then, a call-in, a change of leadership, and the coronavirus pandemic have thrown the plans into chaos and back to square one.

It has been a year where active travel and getting people out of their cars and onto other forms of transport has been high on the agenda, with Exeter seeing road closures and new cycle lanes popping up, while plans to reopen railway lines have been progressed with bids submitted for Bere Alston to Tavistock, Cullompton, and the Marsh Barton station – so back in January – which feels like a different world – I went back and looked at all the lost railway lines as part of the Beeching Axe in Devon and Cornwall.

daniel.clark@reachplc.com

Telephone: 01392 346759 / 07775 030856

Read Daniel’s latest articles here,follow him on Twitter here and visit his Facebook page here.

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