Fighting against regional giants the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo, the Saddleworth Independent was a runner-up in this year’s North West O2 Media Awards.
The monthly publication was fighting for first place in the specialist publication category alongside the MEN’s Business Week (the eventual winner), the Liverpool Post’s Post Culture and the countywide Lancashire Magazine.
The title is run by Ken Bennett, a newspaperman with more than 55 years’ experience in journalism. Despite working for regional and national newspapers, and in radio and television, he says he finds the Independent as “exciting and challenging” as anything he has done before.
He tells Press Gazette: “You get up and do it because you never know what the day’s going to bring. I get exactly the same feeling I do now as I did then.”
The paper started out as part of a franchise operation in Bolton before Bennett took it over last year. He is proud to be “local” and “unashamedly print first”.
“I’m impassioned about this type of operation. We build from the bottom up, not the top down,” he says.
“Personally, I think this is the new model for newspapers – the way they’re going to go. They have to be free, they have to be local and they have to be packed with stuff.”
Bennett, who is a former news editor of the Sunday Mirror and ex-assistant editor of the Express Group, emphasises that the Independent is not the only paper taking this approach, but says it is a model that all titles – local and national – should adopt.
“We are not a good newspaper in the sense that we just report the pretty things that happen in the community,” he says.
“We celebrate success but equally we campaign and I’ve had considerable fortune in having our campaigns backed. We’ve made over £10,000 for charity this year alone. We campaign in the true sense of the word. We take things on their importance to our community. Not just that, we take things on and win them. We’re not trying to be big and beautiful. We’re trying to be small and good – the mouse that roared.”“I speak on behalf of other small publishers who are doing this,” he says.
“It’s do-able. We’re not trying to take on the nationals, or the evenings around here. We’re just trying to produce a good newspaper for a community. And that takes a lot of hard work and dedication from a small group of people.”
Alongside him, Bennett takes on three students, who volunteer and dedicate a large amount of time to the title. The paper also features a number of local people as columnists, including a ghost expert.
It’s not just the editorial work that is put together on a local level, either. “We do all our own commercial work – we design all our ads in-house. We do the whole thing from the bottom up,” Bennett says.
“All it takes is commitment and hard work. We’ve got three trainees working here. So we know where it’s going. This is important,” he says.
Bennett estimates the Independent has more than 10,000 readers each month and circulates to more than 100 outlets, from post offices to pubs, across 13 Pennine villages.