The decline of local news: Mercury moves Penge to Greenwich
Chairman Sir Ray Tindle has embarked on a strategy of delivering news at a hyperlocal level in the belief that readers are primarily interested in what is happening in their immediate communities.
He personally identified Chingford as the latest area of London to benefit from the strategy which has already been rolled-out across other parts of the capital.
News at a hyperlocal level, eh? So how can Sir Ray explain the front page of this week’s Greenwich borough edition of the Mercury, the south-east London paper he bought in 2007?
A sad story about a stabbing. But the incident took place miles from anywhere in the borough of Greenwich – in Penge, in the London Borough of Bromley. The unfortunate victim came from Sydenham, at the far end of the borough of Lewisham.
It’s a horrible tale, but it isn’t local news by any stretch of the imagination. Never mind the hyperlocal news that Tindle bangs on about. Further down we discover the victim was a student at the University of Greenwich, which may well have provided the tenuous link to Greenwich. But with one man from Sydenham arrested and later bailed, I’m not really convinced that anyone in Greenwich borough reading the Mercury – which doesn’t maintain a proper website and whose distribution is patchy to say the least – would be able to help.
Inside, pages two and three of a paper styled “Greenwich Mercury” are taken up with stories about Lewisham borough, making you wonder just why Tindle bothers pretending this is a Greenwich paper. Why not just be honest and rebadge it as the Lewisham and Greenwich Mercury?
Budgets at the Mercury have been slashed to the bone and, frankly, it shows. It does have some great reporters, but with a miniscule web presence and poor distribution, fewer people are seeing their work, and there’s less incentive for advertisers to support the title.
Yet local news can be done in south-east London. While essentially a one-man band at the moment, The Greenwich Visitor is doing a great monthly job of mopping up stories the Mercury and News Shopper are missing or ignoring, concentrating on the Greenwich/ Blackheath/ Charlton area. It’s currently shifting 28,000 copies each month to locals and tourists – and is thriving. Can it expand from there, though?
It’s easy to see why Tindle’s London businesses – hit by strike action in north London last week – are struggling if his papers can’t reflect the communities they claim to serve. Indeed, I wonder if the north London strike action affected effort on his south London titles. With Greenwich Council’s cabinet due to get a report next month into the future of weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time, it’s also easy to see why a council would feel the need to fund its own newspaper, even if it only gives one side of the story.
Incidentally, News Shopper owner Newsquest makes money – but continues to squeeze funding for its titles. Journalists at the NS’s sister title, the South London Guardian, walked out on strike last week to protest against continued cutbacks.
How long until reporters at one of the south-east London titles walk out? But most worryingly of all – considering their employers’ cuts at both titles, hastening their slide into irrelevance – would anyone notice?