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Cuts to local press 'harm democracy'

NUJ General Secretary: There is a real danger that local, campaigning newspapers will wither on the vine

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."

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