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Leak puts a dampener on Mercury celebrations

New era: the Teesdale Mercury as it was (above) and after its relaunch.

A new era got off to a wet start at the 146-year-old Teesdale Mercury.

One day, staff were celebrating after the paper had been produced electronically for the first time. The next, they were mopping up after a huge leak in the roof left their premises flooded from heavy rain.

“We relaunched on a tidal wave of water,” said new editor George Nicholson.

The flood knocked out the paper’s telephone system and, for a day, there were no lines into or out of the building in Barnard Castle, County Durham. A week later, there was still only one line working.

It was “all hands to the pumps” even before the flood as staff worked to produce a new-look paper and the first since the departure of long-serving editor Jim McTaggart. Mr Nicholson’s wife, Karen, a trained sub, worked unpaid and even daughter Sophie was roped in to help.

“The staff here have been absolutely marvellous,” said Mr Nicholson, who has been joined by Nigel Jarrett, as chief reporter, from the Eastern Daily Press.

The Mercury is “nearly B2″ in size – somewhere between tabloid and broadsheet – and is printed on 60-gramme newsprint, compared with the usual 50-55 grammes. The maximum size is 12 pages, with two pages printed each day and collated by hand.

Mr Nicholson (53) began his career on the Thurrock Gazette and joined the Mercury from the Whitehaven News.

Jim McTaggart left the paper quietly after 27 years – all, but for a brief spell, as editor. His successor’s first comment column said: “In typical fashion, Jim requested no fuss and no fanfare as he bowed out, and we have respected his wishes. That is why there is no reference elsewhere in the editiorial section of this newspaper to what is a significant moment in the history of the Mercury.

“Certainly, this newspaper owes him a very considerable debt. Without him we would not have survived as an independent newspaper looking forward confidently to our 150th anniversary.

“He is, as they say, a hard act to follow. But we shall do our best to uphold his traditions of honesty, integrity and impartiality.”

Mr McTaggart signed off with a three-paragraph piece, tucked away on Page 6 of his final edition in charge. He thanked all those who had supported him over the years and said he would be “turning to a different kind of writing, mainly fiction”.

He added: “My apologies go to everyone I’ve misquoted over the years as well as the few I’ve upset – and those who did not look as good as they hoped in my photographs.”

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