The Sunderland Echo and BBC today unveil exciting plans to improve coverage of local democracy across Wearside and South Tyneside.
The BBC’s Local News Partnerships have taken a key step towards the creation of a pool of local democracy reporters to cover council and public meetings across the UK.
Contracts to employ an initial 144 full-time and two part-time Local Democracy 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 - will now receive funding from the BBC to cover employment costs of the reporters.
Once recruited, stories written by the democracy reporters will be shared with more than 700 media organisations that have signed up to be part of the Local News Partnerships scheme.
Two of these reporters will be based at North East Press' head office in Rainton Bridge and will cover local authorities, including Sunderland City, South Tyneside Borough and Durham County Councils, and public meetings.
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."
As part of its Charter commitment, the BBC is investing up to £8 million annually in the Local News Partnerships during the next nine years to the end of the Charter in 2026.
The landmark partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association also includes a Shared Data Unit, based at BBC Birmingham, and a facility allowing local news providers access to relevant regional BBC video and audio content.
The Shared Data Unit will utilise BBC teams and seconded journalists from the wider industry to develop data journalism expertise. The first regional journalists to be seconded started on November 20.
Ashley Highfield, chairman of the News Media Association and Johnston Press chief executive , said: “The ground-breaking Local News Partnership between the NMA and the BBC is now becoming a reality which 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.
"Managed by local media and funded by BBC, the Local Democracy Reporters are just a part of a slew of collaborative initiatives that will see local media get access to BBC's local video and data journalism."
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.
The award decisions were made by senior editorial BBC figures across the English regions, Wales and Scotland.
In areas where a single contract contained multiple reporters, some successful bidders opted to share the allocation with neighbouring news organisations.
The next step will be for the successful organisations to start recruiting, with a view to becoming operational in the next few months.
A total of 150 local democracy reporters will eventually be employed once all contracts have been awarded.