Local World chairman David Montgomery has said much of the “human interface” involved in local news publishing will disappear within four years.
Speaking to MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Montgomery said the role of journalists would change so that they become “harvesters” of content.
“We are going to have to reinvent the model,” he told the committee. “We can’t keep taking costs out but employ the same production techniques in print. We have to be truly digital, so that in three or four years from now, much of our human interface will have disappeared.
“We will have to harvest content and publish it without human interface, which will change the role of journalists.
“Journalists collecting stories one by one is hugely unproductive. They will have to have new skills, greater responsibility for self publishing on different platforms.”
Montgomery said that the local news industry “cannot sustain a model from the middle ages, where a single journalist goes out on a single story, comes back and writes it up”. He added that the model was “highly wasteful”.
He said news groups would have to start seeking “different sorts of skills” from their reporters.
Ashley Highfield, chief executive of Johnston Press, said: "I don’t see a world without local journalists on the ground in the community. It’s our USP. There will always be journalists, that is our role. But they need to change and government can help.”
In January, the Montgomery-led Local World consortium completed its £52.5 million takeover of Northcliffe’s 110-strong local newspaper portfolio.
At the time, Montgomery said he wanted to see a 20-fold increase in content and would phase out sub-editors.
He said: “I see a situation where experienced journalists that can be trusted have no barrier to communication with their audience.
“Sub-editing is a twilight world, checking things you don't really need to check. Senior people will always monitor the content, a core group will create the product.”