JOHNSTON Press boss Ashley Highfield says regional media groups and the BBC have agreed in principle a new partnership - but talks are at a “crunch point”.
Mr Highfield, the CEO of the group, outlined four areas of focus with the BBC, but told the Westminster Media Forum: “We still need to work through the numbers and we’re under no illusions how difficult that might be.”
The News Media Association (NMA), chaired by Mr Highfield, and the BBC have been in talks for more than a year to find ways they could work more closely to strengthen local journalism as part of the corporation’s charter renewal.
Most discussion has focused on how the BBC could fund more journalists, potentially employed by local media groups, and take content from them.
Mr Highfield would not be drawn on further detail beyond describing it as a “provision by the regional press to the BBC of a comprehensive reporting service primarily covering local authorities”.
He said having journalists employed locally by professional organisations and providing content to the BBC would be a win for both parties.
The local media would benefit from “a proper commercial framework for use of this content by the BBC”.
Mr Highfield said the other three areas being discussed with the BBC were:
• a video bank that would make BBC regional content available to local media partners free of charge
• a shared data journalism unit
• an agreement on better linking to local media content on BBC news sites and attribution to content originated in the local media.
An audit is also proposed to find the level of content used by BBC sites that comes from other local sources.
Mr Highfield said the BBC, the NMA and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale were inching towards a deal, but were at a “crunch point”.
“We are trying to reach an agreement on how it is going to work - how much, and when and where,” he said.
Mr Highfield said in an increasingly devolved UK the need for local media to hold authorities to account had never been greater.
“All we ask for is a fair eco-system,” he added.
Johnston Press publishes The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, as well as The Scotsman, the i and a suite of local newspapers and websites.