Local newspapers should be given public funding to ensure they survive into the future, the National Union of Journalists has told a government minister.
The union’s Parliamentary group met Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, yesterday to discuss options for supporting local papers across the UK, amid concerns about falling circulation, closure of titles and cuts to journalist posts.
The NUJ wants to work with Mr Vaizey to plan a roundtable of experts in the New Year looking at new models to help sustain local newspapers within their communities, including classing them as community assets.
As part of this, the union is calling for the proposed group to look into how local papers could be funded or part-funded on a public service model.
It said if newspapers were to receive such public subsidies, they would need to prove they could meet a “public benefit test”, with certain requirements such as a commitment to reporting council meetings and courts and providing a forum for the local community.
The union believes that newspapers should be made community assets under the Localism Act 2011 to prevent titles being closed overnight and to give potential new owners, including local co-operatives, the time to put together a bid for a paper.
The NUJ claimed that 20pc of the UK’s local newspapers had closed in the last decade, with only 70 launches, and it raised concerns about regional publishers increasingly relying on reader-generated copy.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The NUJ believes that journalists should be at the heart of their local communities, speaking and listening to their readers.
“It believes there is a strong future for local papers, which enjoy high levels of trust among their readers. Yet the sector is in a precarious position. When times were good, the newspaper chiefs squeezed profits, made unwise acquisitions, built up debts and failed to invest in journalism.
“Year-on-year cuts, pay freezes and increased workloads have created low morale among newspaper staff. The transition to digital production is fraught with danger – and it appears that professional journalism, community journalism and investigative journalism could be casualties.
“There is a real danger that local, campaigning newspapers will wither on the vine. The NUJ believes that the model is not bust: local papers need to rediscover their local roots, so that local advertisers know they are reaching their market and readers can see that reporters are working on their patch as a watchdog and friend.
“That is why we will be discussing with the minister how government can contribute to the future of a vibrant local press which serves its community.”
A survey of NUJ reps revealed many reporters were no longer covering council meetings and court hearings and the union said that this trend was depriving people of the information they needed to make judgements when voting in local elections.
The union also quoted figures given to the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 by media analyst Claire Enders, who estimated 40pc of regional press jobs had gone in the UK during the last five years and the sector had lost £1bn in advertising since 2008.
The meeting with Mr Vaizey took place yesterday, which was the European-wide Stand Up for Journalism day.