reporting JULIA CLAXTON wn hall

‘Local people are more engaged’

AFTER Sarah Booker-Lewis, LDR in Brighton and Hove, began reporting on the council’s licensing panel, she noted more members of the public were attending too. “They’re quite exciting,”

she says. “I’m seeing more engagement from people coming along to the events.” Booker-Lewis (pictured

right) was working as a tutor with Brighton Journalist Works when the post was advertised two years ago. Previously web editor at

the Brighton Argus, she now sees her stories in up to three papers or websites, plus TV.

While some councillors

have been confused to see her byline in more than one paper, they generally welcome the extra attention. In a typical week, Booker- Lewis attends at least three meetings. Sometimes she will be the

only reporter there, but not always. “When it’s sexy stuff such as the budget, the BBC sends its political guy,” she says. “The Argus may cover a protest, then they go back to the office.” Each Thursday, she sends

an ‘advisory’ to editors in the partnership, informing them

about the meetings she plans to attend the following week, plus other story ideas. Her direct employer is

Brighton and Hove News, an independent website, where

her editor subs her copy before putting it into the BBC system for other media organisations. Following her

appointment, Booker-Lewis

received training from the BBC for radio bulletins and other broadcasting skills. However, BBC South is generally less inclined to use her stories.

Johnston Press). Jeremy Clifford, editor-in-chief at JPI Media, says realisation is growing within local government that reporters are more likely to be present for key decisions. “Councils are under a higher level of scrutiny,” he says. “That can lead to some uncomfortable reading for council officers and council leaders.” David Summers, JPI’s editorial director in the home

counties, says LDRs provide far greater in-depth coverage of council affairs than when different reporters attend meetings on an ad-hoc basis. Most stories are well read. “It’s democracy in action, making people aware of decisions that are taken on their behalf,” he says. In better-staffed newsrooms, political correspondents can work off diary, as they have more time to report other news. At last year’s general election, LDRs from the Manchester Evening News (MEN) worked with political editor Jen Williams on an extensive profile of voters in different constituencies, including voting intentions. Sarah Lester, senior editor at the MEN, says the scheme means boroughs across Greater Manchester are covered as well as the city council and mayor Andy Burnham. Five LDRs with responsibility for eight boroughs are based at the MEN. Stories include efforts to stop fly-tipping, planning disputes

and working conditions at a JD Sports warehouse in Rochdale. Collaboration with weekly titles that share LDR copy is

Leigh Boobyer pictured below


strong. “We get calls from newspapers asking if we’re going to a meeting and planning to file something,” says Lester. “The BBC is a soft target, but they have a really good thing here.” Many LDRs are in their first or second post. “It’s a stepping stone to a specialism or more senior job in the newsroom,” says Higgerson. Others may have covered local government in the past and welcome the revival of political reporting. Interest in the LDR scheme has come from Canada and New Zealand, both of which have launched their own versions. Back in the UK, an original target of 200 LDRs or more seems unlikely without extra funding. That will almost certainly not come from the BBC,

which is making cuts in journalism. Publishers, says Clifford, would probably want exclusivity with stories if they paid all or part of a LDR’s salary. Maybe the government will step in following

Cairncross’s call for funding to protect public-interest

news. LDRs such as Leigh Boobyer certainly hopes so, along with the councillor in Gloucestershire who once told him: “I don’t like everything you write, but I’m really glad you’re here.”

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