Digital Minister Margot James has said she fears solutions to save the local news industry from commercial challenges may come too late.
The MP for Stourbridge (pictured) said she worried in particular that investigative journalism is being left behind as editorial staff numbers decline and newsrooms focus on “trending” stories for clicks.
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She told Gloucester-based business website Punchline that the Government has been working to halt the decline in the local press by trying to get a fairer deal for news publishers.
The Government-backed Cairncross Review into the sustainability of the news industry made nine recommendations to help high-quality journalism survive in the UK, including the creation of a new Institute for Public Interest News, when it published its findings in February.
James, who worked in PR and marketing before becoming an MP, said: My hope is that we can act in time because the erosion of the traditional publishing industry and local news reporting and local papers is carrying on apace.
“And it is a challenge to keep up with these developments and that is my one worry that by the time we get it right it may be too late.”
James backed its recommendation that the Competition and Markets Authority should carry out a market study into the online advertising industry so, she said, publishers can get a “fairer share of the rewards”.
Press Gazette research has found that about 275 editorial job losses in local news were announced in 2018. Some 43 UK local news titles closed last year, but 29 were launched, leaving a net loss of 14 titles
James said: “A big part of local democracy accountability is through the local press, whatever form that takes. But local papers have had to let people go, they now have two or three people producing what was once done by 20 or more.”
She added: “They don’t have time to investigate. Simple reporting of council meetings is fine, but it’s having that time to investigate is where accountability comes from.
“It’s so important, especially in the areas of the country where it is so safe for one party or the other.
“In my constituency, one of the nearby councils has had a 90 per cent Labour council for decades and there are those in other parts of the country that are the other way around.
“Either way, it’s a bad thing for democracy, because nobody is holding them to account.”