Your local papers: compare and contrast

I’m pleased to hear the campaign to save Greenwich’s Meridian Music Centre has made the front page of the Mercury – thanks to an endorsement from Joanna Lumley.

The Ab Fab star offered her support after campaigner Terry Wheeler got in touch with her agent, telling her about a band made up of students at the centre with Gurkha connections. “I hope so much that they are not closed down as they are offering such a valuable contribution to to music, the community and young people in south London,” she said in a message passed on via her agent.

It’s heartbreaking to see the Mercury trapped behind the South London Press’s barmy policy of not publishing the majority of stories online – the paper’s seen by fewer eyes these days thanks to poor distribution, so the good work of its reporters doesn’t get showcased like it should. So unfortunately I can’t link to the story here, but you can find a digital edition on its website.

And isn’t it a good local story, too? Celebrity endorsement for a local campaign? Bingo. Shame that Greenwich Council propaganda rag Greenwich Time seems to be rubbing the Meridian Music Centre campaigners’ noses in it this week, leading with some local kids taking part in a music course… in deepest Kent. Ooops.

But what story of great local interest and importance does the News Shopper, doughty campaigners against such propaganda on the rates, splash with in its Greenwich edition?

Er, some gay men apparently have sex in a hospital toilet. Basically, the paper has found a website which lists gay men’s cottaging locations, copied out the places in Greenwich and Lewisham, and stuck it on its front page in both boroughs. There’s not even the conflict needed to make a good story – someone being outraged at discovering some dodgy behaviour, for example, or hospital authorities ordering a clampdown on such behaviour – just a purient “cor, look at that!”

The gentleman pictured on the front is Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock, incidentally, who was bothered for an outraged quote but didn’t come up with the goods, pointing out that Lewisham is a “gay-friendly” borough and presumably asking the paper to sod off and stop wasting his time.

The trouble is, as anyone who’s familiar with the internet’s wilder reaches will confirm, is that this kind of information has been available online for years. It’s not news. Heaven help us if the News Shopper finds out about the sites which list and discuss favoured locations for dogging, or Punternet. Indeed, if any couple doing it in the open air get attacked by a crow, we’ll never hear the end of it..

But not only is this not news, it’s purient and irresponsible. What’s to stop a few bigots gathering at some open air spot to give the gays a kicking, now they’ve been alerted to their cruising spots in the News Shopper?

You’d think from its campaigning against Greenwich Time that the News Shopper was some kind of fearless chronicle of truth. But the sad reality is that the paper’s turning into a humourless, suburban version of the National Enquirer. Shock and awe stories do very well in getting page views for your newspaper’s website. But the paper’s credibility is shot to pieces by stories like this – and it only provides ammunition for those who it has made enemies of.


  1. They sell the Greenwich Mercury in my local newsagent, which has always baffled me, as I’m 13 miles away from Greenwich.

    Also, why is that story front page now? It was published on News Shopper’s site on Monday morning. Presumably it attracted a lot of traffic, and they saw an opportunity to shift more copies. Lazy and opportunistic. Hardly breaking news.

  2. The News Shopper goes to press on Monday, so that’s why the story went up then (presumably). It’s a free paper, so it’s presumably not done to sell more copies (although you can buy it in shops).

    Strange to hear that the Mercury – especially the Greenwich edition! – makes it over to SW London. The Southwark News makes it into some newsagents here, which is a bit odd…

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