Love Wapping is proud to be a member of a small but growing media sector called ‘hyperlocal publishers’. Simple idea is to act as a news and information source for a very specific local community like Wapping hence the term hyperlocal.
There are now around 400 hyperlocals across the UK.
Hyperlocals are published by local people for local people, usually for free. Each hyperlocal is as different as the community it serves, the only common thread being the desire to serve the people we live amongst.
As a typical hyperlocal LW is completely unfunded apart from the extremely kind and generous people who donate funds to us.
Love Wapping has, in case you had not noticed, a focus on local government issues in Tower Hamlets. We tend to do a lot of investigative journalism work because that is how we get to the root of matters that residents should know about and others would prefer to be kept secret.
BBC Local Democracy Reporters Scheme
Last year the BBC came up with the BBC Local Democracy Reporters Scheme which will allocate £8m of the license fee to fund better coverage of local government by local media including hyperlocals ny funding 150 local news reporters who will solely cover the activities of councils and local authorities.
As there is no profit in covering local government issues like a corrupt Mayor quite a few traditional local papers don’t report on it. Although coverage varies wildly across the UK in our part of east London there is zero coverage of what Tower Hamlets Council and local political parties get up to unless it is packaged as a press release.
Which is great for those in charge but very bad for those who they represent. That’s you.
Earlier this week two gatherings took place at BBC Birmingham’s Mailbox. One concerned the formation of a trade body for hyperlocal publishers which LW fully supports.
The other meeting related to the BBC Local Democracy Reporters Scheme
LW could not attend due to continuing burrowing work by the Wapping Mole but has read the various reports of the two events since then.
The hyperlocal trade body plan seems great and with the continued help of Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism seems to be progressing well. LW intends to fully engage with the trade body and use our experiences of reporting on the corruption of Tower Hamlets First in our borough to help others and inform best practise.
The BBC Local Democracy Reporters Scheme however seems to suck big time.
The scheme seems to have two fundamental failings which will make it of little use to LW or residents of Tower Hamlets.
The first issue is that the scheme seems to be adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to media coverage of local government. This is complete nonsense as covering Tower Hamlets is very different from covering Bromley or Billericay, let alone local authorities in other cities or rural areas.
Most if not all of the information about Tower Hamlets that LW gets is from the street and trusted sources. We have neither the time or resources (or inclination to be honest) to sit through several hours of Council meetings.
The second failing of the scheme is that the BBC seem intent on using the £8m of TV license fee to prop up the ailing local newspaper industry, the zombie press which may still be moving but which is most certainly dead.
Fundamental to this zombie feeding is the BBC’s intention to ‘bundle up’ the 150 new Local Democracy Reporters into geographic groups.
According to Andy Dickinson’s article:
“Rather than 150 separate contracts, they [the BBC] have packaged them up into ‘bundles’ containing a number of reporters per geographic patch. Local news organisations can then bid to take on these contracts on behalf of the BBC.”
Others who attended the event consider that the geographic areas the BBC is suggesting make little sense from a local news standpoint.
And last time we checked LW, like most hyperlocals, is not of a size that we would describe ourselves as a ‘news organisation’ despite our vast horders of Wildlife Rangers and specialist correspondents.
As Andy makes clear the BBC are for some reason being very reticent in publishing any information about the Local Democracy Reporters scheme. What information the BBC does provide is only distributed to a few people on the basis that it will not be reproduced or shared with anyone else.
There also seems to be a risk that the BBC will end up becoming a de facto local news media accreditation body which is just not on at all. LW is sure this is not what the BBC wants, but that does not mean it will not happen.
The BBC Local Democracy Reporters Scheme is not yet set in stone and the establishment of a hyperlocal trade body will be of immense help by making it effective, better value for money and meetings the needs of even the smallest hyperlocal publisher.
As it stands LW can see no reason whatsoever to engage with the scheme, let alone bid for any Local Democracy contracts, despite the pressing need for proper coverage of local government issues in Tower Hamlets.
LW believes that the 400 hyperlocals across the UK would be better off putting our efforts into establishing our trade body and creating new ways to work together.
Hyperlocals have common cause and beliefs and, as the recent investigative journalism course run by the Centre for Investigative Journalism illustrated, a growing appetite for digging away at stories that neither national or local zombie media will touch.
Central to the BBC Scheme is the pooling of stories into one central place for everyone to share when published.
Essential to the BBC of course but there is no way Love Wapping is sharing any of its hard won exclusives with the zombie media. Or the national media for free for that matter.
Sharing our hard won stories with other hyperlocals and using their stories in turn is of course a great idea.
Hyperlocal publishing is the future. We should not allow the BBC, even with the best of intentions, to hamper its development and drag it backwards. Hyperlocal publishers should continue to do their own thing the way their communities want and let our future work shape our fortunes.
For more information
- Details emerge on where new public service reporters will be based
- The BBC, Local democracy, hyperlocal and journalism.
- Local news and the BBC’s local democracy reporting – an update
- BBC to fund 150 local news journalists
- Centre for Investigative Journalism
- Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism