Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The ‘Lichfield Mercury’ has
been off the streets since
April … can it be saved?

A glass of wine with an old friend … the Lichfield Mercury, first published on 7 July 1815, has not been printed since 9 April 2020 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I began my career as a journalist as a freelance feature writer in the Lichfield Mercury almost 50 years.

Now, half a century later, the future of the Lichfield Mercury looks grim. Although the newspaper’s publishers are maintaining a skeletal-like presence on Facebook and other social media platforms, no print version of this 200-year-old local newspaper has been published for the past four months.

The Lichfield Mercury, now a free newspaper that depends on advertising for revenue, has not been printed since April 2020. Due to the fall-off in advertising revenue, the main source of income, the parent company Reach plc decided the Mercury could not survive and stopped printing it.

Now a petition has been launched by Lichfield photographer Robert Yardley to bring back the Lichfield Mercury as a paid-for weekly newspaper.

‘If there are enough people supporting the petition, I am optimistic this will work,’ he says.

Lichfield is well-served by a local monthly magazine CityLife in Lichfield and by a daily news blog, Lichfield Live, with an active Facebook feed. But he believes the Lichfield Mercury as a paid-for newspaper could ‘be as good as the Tamworth Herald, with more content than before. You will be informed of public notices, road closures, council decisions, news of new housing developments, and more.’

To illustrate his argument, he looks at the HS2 project, and says ‘there are ground investigation survey works that Balfour Beatty will be completing during 2020/2021, and the work is planned to re-commence in August 2020. You would be able to read about this and more if we had the Lichfield Mercury.’

He suggests, ‘When you are in the newsagents next time, have a look at the Tamworth Herald to see what it could be like.’

The Ma Ma Thai restaurant at No 17 Bird Street … the home of the Lichfield Mercury in the 1970s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The editor of the Lichfield Mercury, Charlotte Hart, said the newspaper had paused publication after the edition on 9 April 2020 because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on advertising. She said the company is taking ‘a break’ from printing the paper.

The decision came after the owner Reach PLC confirmed plans to cut all staff pay by 10% and furlough others.

‘We have all been affected by the coronavirus outbreak,’ she told readers. ‘Unfortunately, because a lot of the businesses that advertise their services with us have had to stop trading, we have seen a dramatic fall in our revenue.’

She added: ‘It’s becoming a real struggle to deliver your paper free of charge at the moment. So, it is with a heavy heart that we have decided to take a break from printing our newspaper. The decision has not been taken lightly, but businesses up and down the country are being forced into making unprecedented choices.’

Reach PLC, which owns the Lichfield Mercury, said the measures were needed to help the company navigate the current outbreak.

The Lichfield Mercury and Midland Chronicle was first published on 7 July 1815 by James Amphlett at premises in Bore Street, Lichfield. The back page carried news from the Battle of Waterloo.

John Woolrich bought the newspaper in 1821, then sold it on in 1825. By 1834, the Lichfield Mercury was published every Friday by George Walker Hinde ‘in the ancient house at the corner of the Market Place in which the celebrated Dr Johnson was born.’ Hinde, who was previously editor, had become the owner and publisher, but the paper was then discontinued.

Frederic Brown, a printer and a Conservative, established a new Lichfield Mercury in 1877 in opposition to the Lichfield Chronicle, of which he had previously been a proprietor. When Brown died in 1901, ownership passed to his brother Edward. He in turn sold it to WH Smith & Son in 1905.

The title was later acquired by Allison & Bowen, owners of the Staffordshire Chronicle. It was sold on to a syndicate that incorporated the Lichfield Mercury Ltd in 1934.

An exhibition marking 200 years of the Lichfield Mercury was on display in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church in the Market Square, Lichfield, in July 2015, and the first 200 visitors were presented with a collectable ‘2015’ teaspoon courtesy of the sponsor, the Lichfield company Arthur Price.

The newspaper is now part of the Reach group, Britain’s largest national and regional newspaper publisher, with titles that include the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Sunday People, Daily Record, Daily Star, OK! and regional titles including the Birmingham Mail, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo and Bristol Post.

You can click the link to sign Robert Yardley’s petition HERE and to share it with friends.

An early masthead of the Lichfield Mercury, which was revived in 1877

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