The Mercury's pioneering spirit prevails, as the oldest title in the Independent Newspapers stable, it boasts an enviable list of "firsts".
The Durban-based newspaper turns 160 years old on Sunday (November 25). First published as the Natal Mercury and Shipping and Commercial Gazette on November 25, 1852, with a print run of just 300 copies, today The Mercury is one of the most well-loved newspaper brands in South Africa.
As KwaZulu-Natal's leading daily morning English newspaper, 237 000 readers get an essential "headstart" each day with The Mercury.
"The source of The Mercury's strength and longevity is its very loyal readers as well as its committed staff who work incredibly hard to produce a quality newspaper that is relevant to the reading needs of its target readers," says editor, Philani Mgwaba.
"Not many companies in this country, and indeed the world have been able to endure for 160 years and still be in good health. This is indeed a milestone worthy of pride and celebration," he said.
"My colleagues and I feel privileged to be a part of The Mercury family and are conscious of the huge responsibility that comes with our calling. We are acutely aware of the need to keep this very important South African institution strong well into the future. A fledgling democracy such as ours needs a robust press to keep the powerful - both in government and business spheres - accountable for their actions.
"Our country needs a vibrant press if it is to thrive and prosper and The Mercury will continue playing its part in this regard to ensure our republic reaches its full potential as a respected member of the community of nations," said Mgwaba.
The Mercury appeals to upmarket and successful people across the province, as well as ambitious, upwardly mobile and aspirational people who recognise the value of keeping informed. The newspaper audience's racial profile has changed over the years and is highly influenced by the demographics of the province - 40% of readers are Black, 28% Indian, 30% White, and 2% are Coloured.
The Mercury focuses on the important national and local news of the day, delivered crisply for the morning reader. Excellent background and analysis in its leader and opinion pages offer a platform for a diversity of views and aim to foster informed debate.
Business Report, which appears in The Mercury in KwaZulu-Natal, keeps readers abreast of national and international business news. Popular weekly supplements include GoodLife (lifestyle & entertainment), Motoring and Network (local KZN business). The monthly Food&Wine supplement is a popular new addition to The Mercury, while the bi-annual Eating Out restaurant guide is an entrenched authority for those choosing where to dine.
The Mercury has embraced social media and other technological innovations, such as QR (Quick Response) codes to boost its content beyond the print edition. It is arguably one of the most social media savvy newspapers in the country, with around 7000 followers on Twitter and almost 3500 readers who like its Facebook page. People who have worked for and who grew up reading The Mercury, many of whom are now in different parts of the world, speak fondly the newspaper and keep in touch via social media streams.
The Mercury was started (as The Natal Mercury and Commercial & Shipping Gazette) by one of Durban's most prominent families, the Robinsons. Sir John Robinson was Natal's first Prime Minister and the newspaper was launched under the editorship of George Robinson, with Jeremiah Cullingworth responsible for the printing.
Their office was a wattle-and-daub hut on a dirt road, apparently with as much dust in the printing press as on the road outside. It began publication as a four-page weekly newspaper and was composed lead letter by lead letter with a printed rate of around 20 an hour on a flat bed press.
The entire staff consisted of Robinson, Cullingworth, Robinson's 13-year-old son, John, and an unnamed helper. The distribution team was characteristic of the milieu: a team of runners was hired. One runner trotted out of Durban armed with a red flag for identification, a little food and water, and a knobkierie and assegai to ward off wild animals. He met a runner from Pietermaritzburg at the halfway mark, where the paper was handed over for delivery to the hinterland.
In its first 26 years, The Mercury moved from publishing weekly to twice weekly, and then three times a week, before finally becoming the first daily newspaper in South Africa on 2 January 1878.
In 1880, a steam-powered press enabled the production of 1000 newspapers an hour. In 1899, The Mercury revolutionised newspaper production in South Africa: continuous rolls of paper replaced single sheets on the press, increasing output to 4000 copies an hour.
The Mercury was the first newspaper to introduce cartoons into a newspaper South Africa in 1903. The first-ever newspaper supplement in South Africa was also published in The Mercury in 1922. Headlined Woman's Weekly, it delighted female readers and was a popular part of The Mercury for decades.
In 1974, The Mercury became the first South African newspaper to use a computerised typesetting system and in 1977, hot metal printing was replaced by lithographic printing. That year also marked the first time in South Africa that newspapers could print photographs in colour - and The Mercury was the frontrunner.
In 1985, The Mercury became part of Natal Newspapers together with the Daily News. The Argus Group later bought 70 percent of The Mercury's shares, bringing Robinson's 133-year-old family business to and end.
Today The Mercury is a respected title within the Independent Newspapers Limited stable, which is owned by Irish-based Independent News & Media (INM).
No one knows KwaZulu-Natal quite like Independent Newspapers which has a stable of eight newspapers, each title having its own identity and brand. Independent Newspapers KZN is owned by the international Independent News & Media PLC Group and part of Independent News & Media SA.
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