Now, before the next post, a Christmas appeal.
The Mercury was once the defining local newspaper for southeast London. (The Greenwich Phantom mentions its origins today.) But after being abused by uncaring owners, it now cowers, shivering, under an advertisement for a bookmakers. Can you find it in your heart to love this proper local newspaper this Christmas?
Despite the lack of love, there’s still a big heart beating for anyone who gives it some time. The quality of its reporting far outstrips that of its suburban rival, the News Shopper, and it usually puts something worthwhile on the front page. This week it leads with the threat to Maryon Wilson Park animal centre (as first reported on The Charlton Champion), for example. The secret of its success? It has a reporter dedicated to Greenwich borough, Mandy Little, who knows the patch like the back of her hand, and gets out of the office. It makes a hell of a lot of difference.
But who gets to see her reporting?
The story’s buried beneath an ad for a recently-opened Deptford High Street bookmakers – when sadly, the invasion of that area by bookmakers has made news in itself earlier this year. The Mercury itself used to be based in Deptford High Street, before past owner Trinity Mirror – which claims to do “great things locally” – sold up and moved the paper’s editorial to the South London Press base in Streatham, a shift across London almost as jarring as Charlton Athletic’s ill-fated move to Selhurst Park.
The paper’s distribution is terrible, too – I’ve not had a regular copy for many years, and I swiped the pictured copy from a mate. Its website is a joke – only usually updated once a week, it’s hardly a go-to place for local news. Nor is it a particularly good ad for the print paper.
Owner Sir Ray Tindle, is famously determined that the web will “not usurp the printed weekly paper” – but the Mercury is so poorly distributed, and gets seen by so few eyes, that it’s in danger of fading away. These days, it shouldn’t make a difference whether journalism is seen online or on the web, but Sir Ray has surrendered the web to us hyperlocal upstarts and the dire News Shopper, leaving the dear-old Mercury to play catch-up.
It’s not as if Sir Ray isn’t a hyperlocal pioneer himself – he’s recently launched six small-scale local papers in north London. Yet the Mercury limps on, covering the 600,000+ people of Greenwich, Bexley and Lewisham boroughs with what’s effectively a single edition (save for front pages and the odd inside page)..
The people the Mercury claims to serve deserve better. The Mercury’s journalists deserve better, too. So, Sir Ray, please, show it in your heart to give the Mercury some love for Christmas. Give it a proper website. Distribute it properly, or use dump bins. Put some cash in so it doesn’t have to hide under ads for bookies. Split Greenwich from Lewisham, and then maybe split Greenwich from Woolwich from Eltham. If Winchmore Hill can have its own paper, why can’t Greenwich or Charlton? The potential closure of council propaganda rag Greenwich Time could present an opportunity. Because you could have a gem here, Sir Ray. And you should treat it that way.
So show the Mercury some love this Christmas. You won’t regret it, I’m sure.
PS. The News Shopper excelled itself this week by running a story on its website about Thames Water planning water main works in Greenwich. The story didn’t say which streets, and I knew TW dug up Greenwich a few years ago, so I got in touch with the utility to ask where. Thames Water kindly sent me a map – the works are in Plumstead, not Greenwich, proving the dangers of lazily cribbing stories from duff press releases…