Back row (left to right): Alan Lyford, Gary Shenton, Bill Walker, Steve Bishop. Front row: Wendy Lewis, Shaun Lintern, Jane Walker.
Former employees at one of the last family-owned independent weekly newspapers in the country have set up a rival publication in the wake of a Northcliffe takeover.
The Leek Post & Times in Stafford-shire had been owned by the Hill family since the Thirties.
But last July, managing director Tom Hill decided to sell the paper for a sum, rumoured to be at least £3m, to Northcliffe Newspapers, owners of the nearby daily Stoke Sentinel.
Now seven Post & Times employees have left to set up a rival paper in the market town, called Your Leek Paper. It will be the first new weekly paper in the town for more than a century.
Included in the rebel group are former Post & Times editor Gary Shenton, production manager Alan Lyford and advertising manager Jane Walker.
Shenton said: “I was on the staff for 32 years and was editor for the last five. Along with Alan Lyford I was the longest-serving employee. Following the takeover I was offered a position on the subs desk at the Sentinel but I decided to go for redundancy rather than take it. Alan took redundancy in January and approached me with the idea of starting a new paper. Since then other people have got to know about what we were doing and joined the team.”
He said: “It’s all about giving Leek back its independence – we are calling it a paper for the people of Leek by the people of Leek. It will be a good traditional community paper packed with stories about local people.”
The new paper was due out for the first time on Wednesday, with an initial print run of 7,500 and priced at 30p. It is being printed by the Burton Daily Mail.
The Leek Post & Times has an ABC of 12,000 and is priced 35p.
Shenton helped set up the newspaper with his redundancy cheque from Northcliffe and he is one of several equal shareholders. He said the group had no intention of selling out if Northcliffe Newspapers tried to make an offer for the title. “We enjoyed working for the old Leek Post, it was like a family. We fought a lot of battles for the local community and we want to carry on doing that. We were very much involved in the town and we want to stay that way,” said Shenton.
He said the new paper had received a good response from local advertisers and had already exceeded its targets.
Post & Times trainee reporter Shaun Lintern is among those to have defected. He said: “My reason for leaving is that this offer allowed me to be a better journalist – a lot of people in Leek will tell you they have lost their community newspaper and we are going to give that back to them.
“Northcliffe has made a lot of changes very quickly and people haven’t reacted well to it.”
Group editor of the Post & Times series, Doug Pickford, said: “In the past year sales of the Leek Post & Times have risen every month, penetration in the Leek market place is 89 per cent and this week’s paper is 92 pages – one of the biggest ever.
“We hope that the content of their paper is more accurate than the contention that the public actually want it.”
By Dominic Ponsford