Charlton lost its very own local newspaper last week, but did you even know it existed? The Charlton Mercury, founded out of the existing Mercury title, has published its final edition after just 19 months in existence.
The paper launched in September 2013 as part of a move by its parent company, Tindle Newspapers, to produce ultra-local editions across London. The firm had already started producing area-specific editions of the South London Press, and the Charlton paper joined a Blackheath edition and one for “Greenwich Town”.
Essentially, the papers shared the same content apart from a different front page and a couple of different inside pages per area. All three papers have now been replaced once again by the free Greenwich Mercury – although that paper is a far cry from the one that dominated the local news market in this area in the 1980s and 1990s.
Company founder Sir Ray Tindle – who fiercely believes in the power of newsprint over digital journalism – said at the time the ultra-local papers had “reversed the [downward] circulation trend and added substantially to local revenues”.
The strategy to split the Mercury looked crackers at the time, and has clearly bombed. None of the ultra-local papers were delivered through letter boxes, and very little content was put online – they were sold through newsagents for 30p, a risky strategy in an area which hasn’t had a paid-for local newspaper since the Kentish Independent folded in 1984.
Save for some cheap-looking A4 ads in newsagent windows, they weren’t advertised. And Tindle didn’t invest in staffing, so producing the extra papers was just an extra burden on an already-skeleton staff (a reporting staff of one – Greenwich reporter Mandy Little). And the strain occasionally showed – the final Blackheath edition had simply given up and splashed on a story about something in Brockley.
But the Charlton version, on the whole, wasn’t bad at all – there were enough local groups such as the Charlton Society, the Charlton Central Residents Association, the Big Red Bus Club and others who were able to supply stories. Which is, frankly, miraculous, because Charlton is a very quiet news patch – if I was starting an ultra-local paper, I’d try Woolwich or Eltham.
So why choose Charlton? I wonder if the existence of the Charlton Champion had something to do with it – perhaps some bright spark piped up “Greenwich Phantom, Blackheath Bugle, Charlton Champion – let’s go into those areas, they must be busy”.
Indeed, in 2011 the News Shopper toyed with launching a local site for Charlton called Charlton Live (pictured above), but then decided not to bother going through with it, presumably after seeing how quiet a news patch SE7 is. Out of all the areas the Shopper covers, I wonder why it picked here?
Sadly, the Shopper is also losing jobs and is moving to Sutton (making the Mercury’s Streatham base look local), which is another hammer blow for journalism in south-east London. It’s another story for another place but in this particular area, the existence of council weekly Greenwich Time, which undercuts rivals’ ad rates, continues to be a real problem for publishers.
But then again, I’m not sure the local press owners really understand what they’re doing, other than desperately trying bleed their titles for every last penny of profit. Axing the Charlton, Blackheath and “Greenwich Town” titles isn’t meaning the Mercury team can concentrate on a really good borough-wide Mercury.
In fact, it’s the opposite – they’re now producing free editions for Woolwich, Plumstead, Abbey Wood & Thamesmead and Catford.
As for Charlton, we’re left with a Greenwich Mercury that’s not delivered through letterboxes. Instead, you have to hunt it down in a newsagent. Last week, I found a Greenwich Mercury in the third newsagent I went into.
When I went to pay, I noticed there was no cover price and no bar code. With business genius like that, it’s time to start praying for future of the Mercury.