A report by the BBC says the corporation will have to do more to provide local news amid “the decline of the regional press.”
It argues that in future, BBC News will have move “beyond broadcasting” to deliver on its “mission to inform.”
However the suggestion that the corporation could expand its role flies in the face of moves by regional press industry leaders, and some politicians, to curb its existing footprint by cutting back on its local website network.
The report cites the move from daily to weekly of five Johnston Press titles in 2012 as examples of local journalism being “one of the biggest market failures in the last decade.”
Among the titles that changed frequency was the Scarborough Evening News, with the town singled out along in the BBC report as an area for concern over the lack of local news.
“Today in Scarborough there is a small commercial radio station, no daily newspaper and perhaps surprisingly, very little local or community blogging about the news,” the report said.
“Considering the town hit the national headlines earlier this month as its hospital declared a major incident, there were very few news boots on the ground to hold those responsible to account.
“Where did local people go to find out what was happening at their hospital? If the media fails to invest in local journalism will this become the case in many more towns across England?”
Trinity Mirror’s recent closure of seven titles in the South of England is also mentioned in the report, while the BBC itself is criticised in its own report for closing its office and axeing its website in Bradford.
The report states: “There is a democratic deficit in the UK. Parts of the country are not properly reported; in others, public services and people in power are not effectively held to account.
“The BBC is the only news organisation that is required to serve all audiences in all parts of the UK. BBC local radio and regional TV news epitomise public service journalism – providing essential information, underpinning communities, connecting people where they live and holding public figures to account.
“But we are going to need to do more. The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing.
“At the same time, power is devolving. The BBC is going to have to make the most of digital services, alongside radio and television, to ensure people have the information they need where they live and work.”
It goes on: “The BBC is the only news organisation committed to reporting the whole of the UK, community by community, region by region, nation by nation.
“In a more devolved country, news in some parts of the country will simply not apply in others. The politics and economics of the country is becoming more varied, the business of reporting it more complicated.
“While there may be more community bloggers and citizen journalists, there are fewer professional reporters covering local news.
“The economic issues facing the newspaper business are not of the BBC’s making, nor will they be alleviated by the BBC standing aside. If the UK is to function as a devolved democracy, it needs stronger local news, regional news and news services for the nations.”
At November’s Society of Editors conference James pledged to help lead what he termed “the revival” of local journalism.
Since then content-sharing deals have been piloted between the BBC and newspapers in Yorkshire and the North-East of England.
At the previous SoE conference in November 2013, Home Secretary Theresa May blamed the growth in the corporation’s network of local websites for some of the industry’s difficulties.
She said that by becoming the dominant player in providing local news online, the corporation had prevented other operators from entering the market and urged it to “think carefully” about its local presence.
Trade body the News Media Association responded to the BBC report by reinforcing its calls for a more constructive relationship between the local press and the corporation.
Santha Rasaiah, NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs director, said: “The industry has stressed repeatedly over many years that the licence fee funded BBC must not do anything that could damage the commercial independent news media industry and its ability to perform this vital role.
“The industry has looked to explore a more positive relationship with BBC, participating in pilot projects and suggesting constructive innovations, such as BBC purchase of local media content which the BBC at the highest level has said that it will consider but has yet to deliver.”
She added: “Local journalism is not failing. The local news media industry is consumed by bigger overall audiences than ever before across print and online platforms, reaching 73 per cent of the UK population each week.”