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Mercury puts the show on the road

An effort by the Maitland Mercury to keep the Maitland Show from running at a significant loss has been hugely successful, with sponsors heeding the newspaper’s call and contributing more than $10,000. The 150-year-old event, which lays claim to being the oldest agricultural show on the mainland, was set to lose $12,000 after some sponsors...

An effort by the Maitland Mercury to keep the Maitland Show from running at a significant loss has been hugely successful, with sponsors heeding the newspaper’s call and contributing more than $10,000.

The 150-year-old event, which lays claim to being the oldest agricultural show on the mainland, was set to lose $12,000 after some sponsors pulled out. The show has lost money for a number of years, and organisers say it is affecting their ability to maintain the showground and facilities.

The Mercury is a sponsor of the show itself, and when it discovered the financial shortfall it channelled its efforts into a campaign to encourage businesses and individuals to donate $1000 each.

“Traditionally, town shows are often the centre of life in regional cities,” Mercury reporter and the campaign’s lead journalist Nick Bielby said.

The campaign involved news stories, editorials and opinion pieces highlighting the plight of the show and its need for sponsorship. Organisations or individuals who contributed money were then featured in an article about their donation and what motivated them.

“From the next day, we were getting sponsors coming to us going, we’re ready to donate a thousand dollars here or there,” Mr Bielby said.

“It illustrates the power that a regional newspaper can have in alerting the community to an issue … one of the things that makes a regional paper stand out is how well it goes in to bat for its community.

“That’s how we approach things.”

The Mercury’s campaign was indeed persuasive, with some who had resisted offering money changing their mind as soon as the newspaper drew attention to the issue.

The not-for-profit Maitland Showground organisation pays for and hosts the show each February, and maintains the site and its facilities.

“We are not a council-owned showground, so for us to run at a loss creates problems … we’re finding it harder and harder to cover all of the expenses,” Maitland Showground operations manager Amanda Winney said.

The showground’s grandstand is badly in need of repair, and after the Mercury ran a separate campaign drawing attention to that issue, an anonymous benefactor stepped forward promising to donate $200,000 to the repair effort when an equal amount had been found elsewhere.

Mr Bielby said running at a loss created a situation whereby people didn’t go to events because they believed the facilities were not up to standard. “It’s a bit of a vicious circle,” he said.

The repairs look likely to go ahead as the NSW government made a commitment to fund the restoration prior to the state election.

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