Sunday, April 11, 2021
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Behind Community News: Democracy and community go hand in hand

Ever wondered how an independent community media outlet like West Leeds Dispatch operates? In the second of a series of regular posts, editor JOHN BARON looks at how WLD keeps an eye on local democracy, while keeping community at the heart of our coverage.

It’s been a busy last ten days or so for our community reporters! They’ve covered everything from women reclaiming the night with a walk in memory of Sarah Everard in Bramley, through to community litter picks, the re-opening of a Rodley tea room for the first time in a year – and lots more.

You may remember last week how I wrote about how WLD was community led, from our volunteer board right through to the community reporters. If WLD were a stick of Whitby rock, it’d have the words ‘West Leeds’ emblazoned through the heart of it!

(Now seems a good time to remind you that you can join our community reporters for cuppa and a chat at our online Community News Cafe on Thursday – details here).

We also take our reporting on local democracy – and the impact on our communities – very seriously.

We spend many hours each week scrutinising the latest planning and licensing applications and decisions to keep readers informed of what’s happening in their communities.

We also scrutinise the latest council meetings and reports, covering South and West Plans Panel, the decision-making Executive Board and both the Inner and Outer West Community Committees, amongst others. We also scour the latest decisions taken by council officers, which are published on the council website daily.

We think it’s important local people know what their local councillors are saying and how they’re casting their votes in meetings. After all, you put them there!

We’re also pleased to be one of the publishers who have access to the Local Democracy Reporting (LDR) scheme in Leeds.

In 2017, the BBC struck up a deal with regional press to create the LDR roles, with the aim of strengthening local news coverage of local democracy in the UK. Our LDR is Richard Beecham, who’s paid for by the BBC but managed by the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Chances are if we can’t cover a particular meeting, Richard will be there and we can use his excellent copy for free.

We are politically neutral, which means we don’t favour any particular political party or ideology.

These days it’s all too easy for the partisan to cry ‘bias’ and bombard social media as soon as something they don’t agree with is published. For me, journalism shouldn’t pander to people’s confirmation bias.

We make great efforts to remain as unbiased as we can – when we stop getting complaints from BOTH the left and right will be the day I start worrying!

As I said last week, our business model doesn’t depend on page impressions and we don’t have to rely on clickbait and sensationalism like some do. Just honest reporting, speaking truth to power and shining a light on issues important to our community.

We get little credit for that most of the time and I fear all too few in society appreciate the value of a robust local media until it disappears and it’s too late.

We’re just in the process of putting together a survey asking for your views on what we do well and where we could improve here at WLD. Keep your eyes peeled later this week and please do help shape the future of independent, community led media in West Leeds!

Thank you for your support.

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