Sadly again DQ.
There was a time when the Mercury was a very local paper. They were major sponsors or at least amongst the rest for any or all local events. They sat on the committee of Fun Day and although they never donated a penny they donated at least half a page every week to the event. Adverts were free and calls for stalls and volunteers; and in the week before the event they produced a four page all colour programme free of charge. In terms of cost per rate card their contribution was immense. The Mercury Bus attended all events and gave out balloons etc even if the music was a bit too loud for some people's taste.
The editor and reporters made themselves known. I know many here were not too enamoured of Raymond Brown. He used to ring me up on Monday morning and ask what was going on in Hertford. I usually replied by saying that was why i bought a Mercury on Fridays. The others also rang me during the week about local scandals and dug in the local mud. Most of them became reporters for the investigative side but no matter they all wanted news, local news and local people making news. Slowly they all left because the emphasis was on smiley, happy people and grandmothers who flushed the pet hamster down the loo and found it a day later in the neighbours fish pond.
A word on Raymond. He organised the Stanstead River Festival, blockades against government cuts to the rivers and every year gave children from Chernobyl a week's holiday on his own houseboat. I think I should redress the balance. Yes, he was a bit (?!) controversial but he got people interested in local issues (not to mention tunnels) and me in hot water at East Herts. Happy days!
Over the last few years the Lord Illiffe sold the group to another group who sold it to Local World who have sold it to Trinity Mirror. It is about syndication of general Hertfordshire news and beyond and not about the local area. It is also about maximising revenue through advertising. I will not mention the website.
The trend is not going to be reversed any time soon, that's the sad part. I have a lot of sympathy with you DQ and your group. I know how hard such amateur companies work and you deserve greater coverage in the press. Until you do a full frontal Oh Calcutta i think you will remain outside the spotlight. The Mercury will fade like many other print based media. I sort of rely on this site and a few other Facebook based sites for local news and gossip because I have become a bit of a saddo and do not frequent the usual haunts any more. Perhaps I should.
My only advice to anyone working on the Mercury and they are based in the middle of town is to get out and walk the streets like I did and your predecessors did, talk to the local traders, ring up shy councillors, ask local societies for newsletters and when all else has failed buy burned out ex-Town Centre Managers a drink or two and we may get some local news again. News does not come knocking on your door.