‘BBC should pay for newspaper coverage’

THE BBC should pay local newspapers to use their stories rather than fund extra reporters to cover local councils and courts, the head of one of the country’s largest local news groups has told MPs.

Ashley Highfield, the chief executive of Johnston Press, which owns The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, said he had been in discussion with the broadcaster about a “commissioning” model where it paid for their news and pictures to use on its platforms.

He told the culture media and sport select committee he was wary of the BBC’s suggestion of a network of 100 public service reporters, first announced by director general Lord Hall in September, saying he feared it would allow “BBC tentacles” to reach into ever-more local communities.

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Mr Highfield told MPs direct commissioning would allow local papers to train up and hire more of their own reporters by selling content.

He said: “We would be delighted to provide it, providing it did not just create another BBC outreach into ever smaller communities, because we do not think that’s helpful to our ecosystem, having another hundred or however many hundred it would be, BBC journalists effectively in our patch.

“But we do think the model where they commission us is a relatively straightforward model and would work.”

The BBC said in September it would offer staff and content to local newspapers in plans for a major shake-up of the corporation.

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It came as Culture Secretary John Whittingdale consults on possible replacements for the licence fee and considers whether the BBC should be “all things to all people” or have a more “precisely targeted” mission.

David Holdsworth, the BBC’s controller, English regions, told the committee the idea had first been proposed by a newspaper group. He said that rather than hundreds of BBC reporters it would see licence fee cash made available in a bidding process.

He added: “I think as we have gathered there isn’t exactly industry consensus on that idea and that is why we ... have been holding more conversations and negotiations about how we might best fashion our proposal for the future.”