Greenwich and Lewisham Mercury

The Greenwich Mercury and South London Press have been sold to a Romford-based leaflet distribution firm after the company that owned them went into administration.

Street Runners, which operates from an industrial estate at Hainault, has taken on the two titles after Capital Media Newspapers called in administrators last week.

Penge-based Capital Media was formed only last year after the titles were among a group given to their management by local newspaper baron Ray Tindle. The group has now been broken up, with a collection of titles in Dorset being sold last week.

The Mercury, which is London’s oldest title, is distributed free – if very patchily – in the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham. The twice-weekly South London Press is sold in newsagents. The SLP traditionally covers Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth boroughs, although that remit has been blurred somewhat since Capital Media took over.

Under Tindle, the group was expanded while resources were cut – short-lived “hyperlocal” Mercury titles for Charlton, Blackheath and Greenwich were then replaced by ones for Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Catford, before being closed when Capital Media took over the titles. Similar “hyperlocal” South London Press editions were also opened and closed, with Capital Media boss Hannah Walker telling a London Assembly meeting that they “confused” readers.

Capital Media also had to take on a series of west London papers set up by Tindle – these have not been included in the sale to Street Runners.

The papers are now run by a skeleton staff, with departing reporters not being replaced. The operation also appears to lack a strategy for the web and social media. Last week’s edition of the Mercury led on a story about the new Greenwich Ikea which was simply taken from a press release put out by the Swedish retailer, with no reference to the controversy caused by the proposed store (which had been covered by the paper in the days when the staffing was a little better).

1991: The Mercury in its pomp

It’s a far cry from the Mercury’s 1980s and 1990s pomp, when the paper was a campaigning title regularly getting its teeth into both Greenwich and Lewisham councils. Since then, the paper has been passed from owner to owner, forced to merge its newsroom with its old South London Press rival, booted out of its old Deptford HQ and exiled to Streatham, then shunted to Penge. While the paper’s sole reporter/editor does an admirable job keeping up with local issues, there is no capacity for investigative journalism while most of that newsroom’s resources for original reporting are directed to its traditional strength of sports coverage.

Street Runners was founded in 2005 and is controlled by Slav Ibelgaputas. Its last company accounts showed it had net assets of just £838, although further financing was provided by Lloyds Bank earlier this year. It’s understood the company is planning to invest in its new acquisitions.

While the Mercury and SLP now have the chance of a fresh start under new owners, the outlook for the rest of the legacy local media in the area remains grim. The News Shopper is also now run by a skeleton staff from Sutton and has effectively ceased to be a local paper, while Greenwich Weekender – which launched earlier this year after signing an ad deal with Greenwich Council – has now dropped its news coverage after a promising start. Greenwich borough’s two independent papers, Greenwich Visitor and SE Nine magazine, have to compete with council fortnightly Greenwich Binfo for advertising, as well as Google and Facebook.

1.50pm update: Companies House records show a new company, South London Press Media, formed by Slav Ibelgaupt [sic] on 10 July. He then resigned on 13 July, with a Marina Ibelgaupt in now charge of the company. Companies House records show directorships registered in a number of similar names – Slav(a) Ibelgaupt(as) and Mar(yna/ina) Ibelgaupt(as) – with dates of birth varying between 1972 and 1977, mostly registered to the same address in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.