7 August 2023
The Local Democracy Reporting scheme will be funded for an additional year by NZ On Air and RNZ, due to its significant contribution to supporting regional journalism.
The flagship scheme was established in 2019 by the News Publishers’ Association (NPA), RNZ and NZ On Air as a way to boost local democracy reporting across Aotearoa New Zealand. In the past two years, it was funded via the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF), which ended on 30 June 2023.
NZ On Air will fund $883,950 for the next year with RNZ funding the remaining 50 percent which will see the scheme and the 16 reporters it funds continue through until the end of 2024.
RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said collaboration with the broader sector to achieve better outcomes for audiences was part of RNZ’s mission and it was delighted to increase its support of the LDR scheme.
Media consultant Dr Gavin Ellis was commissioned to review the LDR and his report, which has just been released, shows overwhelming support for the scheme from LDR reporters and editors who have seen significant improvement in local democracy coverage, while local government officials reported a noticeable increase in media attending local meetings and greater scrutiny.
Dr Ellis’ report states that “The prospect of the Local Democracy Reporting scheme ending with the wrapping up of Public Interest Journalist funding was greeted by regional editors with what was little short of dismay”.
Dr Ellis’ report goes on to say that, in spite of the enthusiasm from regional editors, it was clear that most newsrooms were not in a position to continue LDR roles without the funding.
In 2019, the LDR pilot scheme saw eight local democracy reporters produce stories from across the motu, that were accessible to RNZ and other qualifying media outlets. In the past four years, that number has grown to 16 local democracy reporters – 10 in Te Ika-a-Māui/the North Island and six in Te Waipounamu/the South Island who cover more than 150 local bodies. They report on local institutions such as local councils, council committees, community boards, council-owned commercial enterprises, district health boards and local trusts.
“The LDR is a successful and proven model and has become a vital part of the New Zealand media landscape and to the regions it operates in,” says Cameron Harland, Chief Executive NZ On Air. “It is strongly focused on local government reporting and has provided quality core public interest journalism in regional communities. The engagement the scheme has built with those audiences in the past four years is really impressive and warrants continued support. So we are delighted to be partnering with RNZ in order to be able to fund the scheme for a further year.”
Manager of the LDR scheme, David Reid, says that the data shows that, in terms of engagement, page views across the 30 media partners edged past nine million in the past year, with LDR reporters writing around 3,000 local stories a year generated in communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.
“The LDR has enabled newsrooms around the country to have access to unprecedented news coverage that is relevant to their particular district or community,” says Reid. “And we have also seen previously under-represented groups seeing and hearing from their local leaders, experts and commentators on issues of real relevance and importance to them. Hopefully this new relationship can set a strong foundation that allows LDR to become a permanent fixture in the New Zealand media landscape.”
Brook Cameron of the NPA says the scheme has provided a solution for previously underserved audiences.
“With the decline in the number of journalists in certain regions, this scheme has provided the resource to cover matters of importance to those local communities. Plus, the fact that content is shared across partner newsrooms has allowed the benefits to spread even further.”