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Solent v-c calls for tie-ins with broadcasters to save regional journalism. Melanie Newman writes

November 5, 2009

A vice-chancellor has proposed a network of universities working with on-campus regional broadcasters to help save local journalism.

Van Gore, vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University, said the institution had been in talks with ITV Meridian for the past 12 months about the broadcaster moving to a city-centre site belonging to the university.

Under the plans, Solent would give the broadcaster access to university production studios, an editing suite and other equipment and facilities. The scheme would also see ITV employees involved in teaching, with visiting professorships offered to senior staff.

In return, ITV would sponsor a chair, set projects, provide internships to students and use a wide range of student-generated content where possible.

Professor Gore told Times Higher Education that the deal aimed to reduce ITV's costs while benefiting the university through "brand association" with the broadcaster. It would also offer research and educational benefits.

He suggested that similar tie-ins could form part of a "wider national solution involving three or four similarly minded universities elsewhere in the UK".

By developing new arrangements to deliver regional news, such partnerships would "offer a means by which the ideals of public-service broadcasting might be preserved, while providing employment for those being lost from the industry", he added.

Professor Gore said the model could be extended to include partnerships between universities and local newspapers to arrest the rapid decline of local print journalism.

"If you can have teaching hospitals, why not a teaching TV station or newspaper?" he asked.

Professor Gore added that he had discussed his proposals with Michael Grade, the outgoing executive chairman of ITV, who had been "extremely encouraging".

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Digital Britain report, published in the summer, contains plans to replace ITV-produced local news with programming supplied by "independently financed" news consortiums.

These would "provide a more ambitious cross-media proposition and enhanced 'localness' compared with current commercial television regional news", the report says.

Ministers have suggested that funding for the new services could come from the TV licence fee - a move that is being fiercely resisted by the BBC.

The Government wants to set up three pilot consortiums before 2012 in Wales, Scotland and England.

Established media players such as Trinity Mirror and the Guardian Media Group have already expressed interest in bidding, but Professor Gore hopes that a news consortium involving a university could bid to run the English pilot.

He is confident that Solent would be ready for a 2011 start.

Professor Gore also proposed that a new industry body could be set up to oversee the inception and operation of partnerships between universities and local broadcasters.

The body could operate out of Pinewood Studios, he suggested, and "provide continuity with existing arrangements and assurance of the highest professional broadcasting standards".

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