Show the Mercury’s neighbours some love this Easter

A bit of rant here. It’s important, though, so please hear me out.

Blogs like this should supplement local newspapers. You can’t compete all the time with them, and it’s clear that in this area that they do some things (crime, angry people) better than others (council issues, transport). But when local newspapers are run irresponsibly, or cut back to such an extent they can’t cover the local area properly, it creates an awkward vacuum.

Such a situation has occurred in Greenwich – allowing room for the local council to fill the gap with a propaganda rag, for example.

Readers with long and charitable memories will remember a post at the end of last year entitled Please, show the Mercury some love for Christmas, detailing the decline of what was once south-east London’s premier newspaper under the ownership of local media magnate Sir Ray Tindle.

Despite some excellent reporters, Tindle’s company is allowing the Mercury to wither away under staff cutbacks. He poses as a champion of local media – and the trade press get taken in by it. “If you had a paper for every street, it would sell,” he told journalism.co.uk, and Media Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade lapped it up obligingly.

“The average person isn’t interested in the wider area but they are very interested in their immediate locality,” Tindle opined. Which went down great with credulous trade hacks, but on the ground, the reality is very different. In SE London, a single edition of the Mercury covers three boroughs – Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley – usually with a custom front page and the odd individual inside page to disguise the fact that a “local” newspaper is trying to serve 600,000 people.

Indeed, across town, Tindle has launched a Mercury-style newspaper called the Lambeth Post – billed as a “community” newspaper despite the fact its editorial area stretches from Streatham to Waterloo – some community – and that no extra staff have been taken on to fill its pages (it cannabalises the paid-for South London Press).

It seems that the Mercury’s sister papers in north London are suffering in a similar fashion.

From Tuesday 19 April for two weeks staff at North London and Herts Newspapers are on strike over Sir Ray Tindle’s refusal to replace members of staff leaving the former award-winning newspapers to dwindle and die.

This all flies in the face of Tindle’s claim to be the, “Saviour of local newspapers”. He recently said, “Despite the doom-mongers regional newspapers are alive and well…” Not in north London as they suffer death by a thousand cutbacks.

More than a third of editorial has left without being replaced and key positions are not being filled. Now, just three reporters are churning out a total of nine newspapers every week. Over the last few weeks management has also slashed the Sports section by half while the future of the entire Arts & Leisure section is under threat.

As a consequence of its refusal to replace staff a vastly inferior product is being delivered to our readers. Reporters do not have time to leave their desks meaning they are missing important stories, are unable to cover a range of council meetings, attend community events, court cases and inquiries and do not have the time or resources to hold public figures to account leading to the worst kind of churnalism.

The company says our centre is losing money but last year our employer, Tindle Newspapers, made over £3 million pounds profit.

If you care about local journalism in London, and don’t want it to be left to the likes of me and to council PR departments, these people deserve your support. The north London strikers have contact details should you wish to drop Tindle and his MD a line.

Incidentally, staff at the News Shopper’s sister paper, South London Guardian – and other papers in the Newsquest London group – are starting a work-to-rule tomorrow to protest against the plummeting quality of their papers.

(A small declaration of interest: I hold an NUJ membership card.)

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