A weekly newspaper, credited with the most famous crusade in regional press history, is going back to its campaigning roots to shape the future of the publication and the town it serves.
The Matlock Mercury – which 13 years ago won the release of convicted murderer Stephen Downing in a case which grabbed the nation’s attention– is turning its championing ways on to the community it’s covered for nearly three quarters of a century.
Now the Johnston Press title is hoping to enlist the support of readers in the launch of its Matlock 2025 project.
The aim of the campaign is to help form a “popular debate” about the town going into the 2020s.
“Too often this sort of thinking can be taken out of the hands of the people who actually have to live with the results,” said Graeme Huston, editor for the past year.
“At best we hope the campaign will help to illustrate the wishes of townspeople and act as a focal point for discussions on the future,” he added.
Graeme, pictured, who is group editor of the Derbyshire Times series which includes the Mercury, says market research over the previous six months – involving what readers wanted in the paper – has resulted in evolving changes to a new-look paper.
He told readers in this week’s publication: “We want to tailor our paper to what you as a community need and we need your help to do it.”
Readers have a chance to take part in online survey on what they think of the revamped paper – with a chance to win Marks and Spencer vouchers in a prize draw.
The title has a fascinating pedigree which began with its launch in the late 1940s as an entertainments guide – in the home of founder Ella Smith. It stayed at that Matlock address until October 2000 when new offices were opened in the town centre.
One of its original editors – once it switched to a newspaper format – was Gerry Kreibich, now 81, who went on to train hundreds of journalists when he ran the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ courses in the 1970s and 1980s at the now defunct Richmond College, Sheffield.
And a later newsroom chief – Don Hale – became its most acclaimed editor when he fought to overturn the conviction of Stephen Downing.
Downing, a 17-year-old with the reading age of an 11-year-old, served 27 years in prison for the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in Bakewell.
Don’s tireless campaigning on behalf of the convicted killer led to the conviction being declared unsafe by the Court of Appeal in 2001 and Downing released.
Hale won Journalist of the Year, Man of the Year and was eventually awarded an OBE. In 2004 the case was featured in the BBC drama In Denial of Murder in which actor Stephen Tompkinson played Don Hale.