Metroland to close Guelph Mercury (updated)

The 149-year-old daily will print its final edition on Friday

In a February 2015 column celebrating the Guelph Mercury’s origins and proud history – which included four individual owners until its purchase by Thomson in 1947 – managing editor Phil Andrews wrote: “If the paper comes to chronicle its history at 200, in 2067, I wonder how or if I’ll be remembered in the telling.”

That question was rendered moot Monday as the Mercury’s owner, Metroland Media Group, announced today that it will stop publishing the print edition of the 149-year-old publication on Friday.

Announcing the decision, Metroland cited the standard reasons: a decline in classified and national advertising.

Publisher Donna Luelo called it a “sad day,” but said that a lack of ad revenue has made it “impossible” for the printed copy of the paper to remain profitable. Established in 1867, the Mercury is among the oldest broadsheets in the country.

“There are many difficult considerations with regard to the closure of the printed version of the Guelph Mercury, and there is nothing that the talented team at the Guelph Mercury could have done differently to affect the outcome,” said Luelo in an internal memo to staff obtained by J-Source.ca.

In an e-mail interview with Marketing on Monday, Luelo said that the Mercury has experienced an “acceleration” in the decline of national advertising that likely mirrors that of other dailies across the country.

The decline, she said, has been compounded by a “slow but steady decline” in classified ad revenue.

Luelo declined to answer questions about how many advertising pages a typical issue of the Mercury contains or the anticipated cost-savings created by stopping the print publication.

Monday’s issue contained no national advertisers and just a smattering of ads for local businesses. It also included a house ad featuring a quote from Thomas Jefferson (“The man who stops advertising to save money, is like the man who stops the clock to save time”) that urged advertisers to call their account executive.

Asked if the publication is still profitable, Luelo responded: “No it is not.”

Torstar (which owns Metroland) said that the Mercury’s Monday to Friday circulation has dipped to less than 9,000 from just over 12,000 in 2013, as readers continue to migrate to digital media sources.

The Mercury will continue to publish at GuelphMercury.com, although Luelo said that the details of how its online content will be generated are still being determined.

Bob Hepburn, a spokesperson with Metroland parent Torstar, told Marketing that he expects the site to operate in much the same manner as the Cambridge Reporter website (CambridgeReporter.com).

That site houses Cambridge-area news on its homepage but redirects to the Waterloo Region Record website (TheRecord.com). All of the Cambridge-related news on the site is generated by Record staff.

The Mercury closure affects 23 full-time and three part-time employees, including eight in the editorial department. Metroland said that it has other newspaper and media properties in the region, and that there may be opportunities for staff members at those businesses.

Metroland will continue to publish the real estate publication Guelph and District Homes and the lifestyle magazine Guelph Life. The company said that it will continue to deliver local content to the community through the twice-weekly Guelph Tribune, another Metroland-owned publication that reaches more than 40,000 households and is also housed at GuelphTribune.ca.

Asked if the Mercury’s long history made it difficult to cease printing, Luelo responded:

“This was a decision that was not made lightly. Particularly in light of the length of time the Mercury has served the Guelph community,” she said. “But the revenue base simply cannot support the expense of producing a six-day-a-week newspaper delivered to the door.”

The Mercury closure is the latest in a series of body blows for the Canadian newspaper industry, and comes less than a week after Postmedia laid off journalists across the country and merged newsrooms in markets where it operates two publications.

Unifor, the union representing the Mercury’s editorial staff, called the decision an “unconscionable blow” to Guelph residents, pointing out that it is now among the only Ontario cities with a population greater than 100,000 that doesn’t have a daily newspaper.

Luelo said “Metroland is committed to the core of the business – telling the stories of the communities we serve,” she said. “But as the business evolves, so does how we deliver the stories. The core of what we do, no matter what format, is important to us and the communities we serve.”

Meanwhile, Mercury staffer Drew Edwards wrote on Twitter that the announcement that Metroland is ceasing the print edition “a bit misleading,” claiming that the company is actually laying off the entire editorial staff.

Another reporter, Guelph Storm beat writer Tony Saxon, wrote on Twitter: “I loved my job more than most of you will ever know. I will miss it terribly.”

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