A pilot scheme to provide local newspapers with free coverage of public institutions such as councils and courts is to be launched later this year.
Tony Watson, managing director of the Press Association, the national news agency of the UK and Ireland, said local and regional newspapers had an important “public service reporting” role in covering these public bodies.
But pressure on resources meant many newspapers were struggling to cover some courts and public meetings, he said.
The Trinity Mirror newspaper group has agreed to take part in the pilot, which is due to begin in the autumn.
“I would class ‘public service reporting’ as the coverage of those public institutions which have power and influence over people’s lives, and the coverage of those activities is essential to a healthy democracy,” Mr Watson said.
“We are proposing to launch a pilot project which is aimed at trying to see if there is content around these institutions that is not finding its way into the media because of pressure on resources.
“The only way to do that is to send reporters into an area for a defined period and point them at those institutions, see what comes out and see what the take-up might be.”
Giving evidence to the House of Commons select committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is debating the future of regional media, Mr Watson said Birmingham Post owner Trinity Mirror had agreed to take part in the pilot.
Content would be made available to news organisations for free, he said, and Press Association journalists would not be redeployed for the pilot, as dedicated staff would be recruited.
Michael Pelosi, managing director of Northcliffe Media, one of the UK’s largest newspaper publishers, told the committee that advertising revenues had fallen by 45 per cent to 50 per cent from the peak in spring 2005.
Mr Watson said BBC proposals to share video content for free with other news providers risked distorting the market for commercial competitors.
Mr Pelosi told the committee: “There is just greater media choice and there is time poverty.
“So we have to share the audience and we have to share the cake.”
He said print journalism drove online content and added: “There are still a lot of people out there who want to consume their information in print.”
Newspaper Society director David Newell said that the initiative of having consortia of local news providers was “a new idea and a new concept” and a “ray of light” within the Government’s Digital Britain report.
He also underlined the importance of a “strong copyright regime” for the industry and said that while the report identified a number of the right issues, it did not with any degree of urgency suggest what the solutions would be.