Newspaper workers warned starkly yesterday that democracy is being snuffed out because media bosses' cost-cutting has stripped resources that once kept local politicians in check.
The National Union of Journalists spoke out before a crunch meeting with Tory Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to press for drastic action to stem the tide.
One in five local papers has shut in the last decade and staff numbers have been chopped by an estimated 40 per cent.
The cuts mean "reporters sitting at their desks pouring press releases into pre-determined page grids," the union says.
Among its proposals are amending the 2011 Localism Act to designate local papers as community assets - similar to laws governing pubs - so that buyout bids can be made before the presses stop for good.
Other ideas include a law change to force owners to put titles up for sale before axing them and a study into a radical formula of public-service funding so long as papers cover council meetings, courts and are a real forum for the community.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet accused newspaper chiefs of squandering resources and racking up huge amounts of debt to the benefit of shareholders "when times were good"
The rising cost of debt has since plunged the industry into a deep crisis.
Ms Stanistreet warned: "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."
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.