Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year, sponsored by Camelot.

Camelot is proud to support the Society of Editors’ Regional Press Awards.

Since its launch in 1994, The National Lottery has delivered a life-changing £40 billion for Good Causes, with more than 565,000 individual awards made across the UK – an average of over 200 lottery grants in every postcode district. It has also awarded over £73 billion in prizes and created more than 5,500 millionaires or multi-millionaires.

The National Lottery is at the heart of communities across the UK and benefits millions of people’s lives – just as the national, regional and local media do every day. Thanks to your invaluable support over the past 25 years, National Lottery winners have been able to share their good news, missing ticket-holders have been united with their previously-unclaimed winnings and a huge range of projects have been able to highlight the life-changing difference they make thanks to vital National Lottery funding.

The Shortlist

The judges considered the achievements of each of the entries across all platforms set out in submissions by editors. The judges were looking for service to the local community, great exclusives and successful campaigns, editorial achievements and other outstanding journalism.

Camden New Journal

Supporting statement:

THE Camden New Journal continues to grow from strength to strength despite the financial challenges faced by the industry. The key has been a conscious decision to not cut staffing levels, whether in the newsroom, the subs desk or in the sales team. As one of the last independent titles in the country and with employees who have shown long term commitment to the paper, our team is able to produce unrivalled coverage of the area. Our office remains in the heart of Camden and an open door to all. Readers respond by filling four to five pages with letters each week. We are embedded in the community and so when things go wrong, they turn to us for our help. This was the case when our local City Farm was threatened with cuts and possible closure. We scrutinised the board’s every decision, and our relentless coverage eventually led to philanthrophic donor stepping in and saving the day.

It was a tough year, however. Once again our area in north London suffered a series of youth murders, several stabbings and a shooting. One week saw three people killed in just four days. We resolved to cover them, not by painting lurid portraits of how much blood was smeared across the pavement, but by starting a borough wide conversation of how to end the unrest. Our powerful ‘We Know What Will Happen Next’ front page, included in this submission, has been credited with making people stop and think about the cycle of violence. We hope, and believe, our sensitive but challenging coverage helped secure new funding for youth services and changed the outlook of police and politicians.

Holding our local public institutions to account is our duty. We have not relied on Facebook or BBC to pay for somebody to go to council meetings or hospital board meetings for us. Ask our local politicians, we are there every night ourselves. We still send reporters to courts and inquests too, and we must be one of few local papers who send political correspondents to the annual party conferences around the UK. We covered two sets of elections in forensic detail and were the first newspaper with the results of our parliamentary constituencies in print after the December general election when we produced a 8am results special. This may sound old-fashioned, but there was a queue for copies, almost as souvenirs.

We never lose sight of being the local paper, however, and each week we take on cases from broken lifts to missing disabled ramps. These are the sort of little battles which may not be front page screamers, but mean so much to our community. At Christmas we once again collected thousands of pounds in donations to pay for hampers to be delivered to the elderly on their own and those who have been through hardship. All of this work is supplemented by a lively arts and review section, which benefits from the stream of musicians, writers, actors and entertainers who live in Camden and surrounding areas like Hampstead and Primrose Hill. You’ll find Michael Palin, who lives locally, in our submissions using our pages to campaign for a school to be saved from closure. They are always more than happy to sit down for an interview. Up and coming talent also get the chance to be heard in our pages too.

And in sports, we keep that twin duty in mind: to cover Arsenal and Spurs, our big local football clubs, sending a reporter to Madrid for the Champions League final for example, but also making sure schools sports and local teams get their chance to be in the paper too. We have varied this part of the paper to include other types of sports as well, including swimming, boxing and even the local pub pool league – the latter of which gets a surprising amount of following online.

When it comes to the web, we have refreshed our look at so that adverts are less intrusive, while still raising an income. We’ve had more hits than ever with daily updates, blogs, picture specials and extra reviews from our cinemas, theatres and restaurants. Our social media presence has also expanded with more audio and video, new Facebook groups and even a presence on Instagram. This, if we return to the top of our application, only all been possible by keeping reporters in their jobs and out in the field. If one leaves, they are always replaced. Here journalists are working in something akin to a co-op with an appropriate pay ratio between the highest and lowers earners, perhaps a future model for other local newspapers. This fair structure will also provide an honest deal for donors if the paper had to turn to the Guardian model of financing. In the meantime, we remain committed to being a voice for our readers, many of whom feel they have nowhere else to turn against big developers or large institutions, and to remain a campaigning, investigative organ.

Judges’ comments:

There’s a buzz about this paper which is obviously created by a small but dedicated team. The enthusiasm shines through and the results speak for themselves. A truly great publication.

Chronicle Week

Supporting statement:

Chronicle Week is the UK’s biggest weekly free newspaper. Since its launch in 2018, its small, but dedicated staff have strived to bring the best local, topical and relevant news to all readers of its seven titles across the Black Country and Staffordshire.  

It’s bright and colourful, the design and layouts are sleek, and well-used cut-outs add it to its good use of photography. Local matters are complemented by national issues that have a local concern, for example the Tunisia terrorist attack and the collapse of Thomas Cook. Letters come from a cross-section of the public, Pet of the Week has proved a popular addition, while What’s On from around the area’s myriad entertainment venues and the puzzles and TV section remain a vital source of information to the readers. Competitions, lifestyle features, motoring and property are well-read, while the sports pages cover a host of teams from across the whole distribution area.

Judges’ comments

A tremendous free paper that brings the reader a bright, colourful publication that demands attention. Plenty of community news and clever blend of relevant national as well as local information and features.

Islington Tribune

Supporting statement:

Like a determined X-factor contestant who just missed out on the live shows last year, the Islington Tribune is back to stake its claim for the Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year award. We were highly commended for our commitment to the local area last year but we were pipped to the post by the Slough and Windsor Express. Since then we have ramped up invest in our journalists and in our communities.

We are one of the last independently owned local papers in London that champions boots on the ground, investigative journalism. Our news journalists are at council meetings every week picking up on the nuggets that are buried in the depths of reports. Our journalists are waiting outside Labour party CLP meetings to get behind the politics that drives the Labour dominated town hall. Our journalists are given the time and encouragement to try to answer the why, instead of bashing out the who, what, where and when for online click-bait. This investment is apparent in the papers we produce. Take the 7:30am election special edition on December 13 for example. The Tribune is one of the only regional newspapers in the country to have a paper on the streets the morning after the election with the full results and reaction. And this election was a massive moment for the borough with Jeremy Corbyn on the cusp of Downing Street. We had two reporters buzzing around the streets and in the town hall on election day and working through the night. It is not just the journalists though. The sub-editors were in the office all night as well as the production team checking the pages. This edition had plenty of other excellent stories as well. The Tribune has run several campaigns focussing on the management of the Whittington Hospital. Famously we claimed victory in 2010 when the A&E was saved. December 13 was the week Ryhurst, a subsidiary of Rydon Group (one of the companies caught up in the Grenfell scandal), tried to sue the Whittington after the board decided to drop a contract with them. The Tribune exclusively revealed the fact that the Whittington board was dropping Ryhurst earlier in the year after we charted the long campaign to oust Ryhurst. On the day I am writing this, the Whittington has won the court case against Ryhurst saving taxpayers millions of pounds.

The December 13 edition also contains reports and pictures from nativity plays. Every year we have reporters in schools for results days, World Book Days and nativity productions. Like every good local paper, we aim to have a picture of every child who has grown up here in the paper before they reach 18.

The September 27 edition of the paper shows that we do not just ramp up our political coverage during the election period. We regularly send reporters down to party conferences. This year we were down in Brighton getting under the skin of the Labour party group. Our splash also illustrates our fearless and relentless work holding London Mayor Sadiq Khan to account after several deaths on Islington roads. While other papers and online outlets are happy to bash up shock-horror click-bait copy, we are always looking for the campaign behind a story. This idea is evident also in the March 22 edition with the dangerous condition of our roads again given prominence with a lead on page 4. The splash on this edition is another long-running campaign we have followed, supporting the mother of Nashon Esbrand who was knifed to death by the “Cally Boyz” gang. His killing came after he repeated told the police he was being targetted after helping them in their pursuit of members of the Cally Boyz gang. His pleas for help went unnoticed and his mother has never forgiven the police for this. While many papers in London are churning out press releases from the Met, we are going behind the numbers and cases. The second lead on the front illustrates the shocking fact that the police are unlikely to solve an assault crime if it is not fatal.

Away from our exceptional news pages, every week we publish two pages of letters stirring up debate in the community. On top of this, we regularly have forum pieces from leading academics and polemics in the area to push the debate further.

With one of the Premiership’s biggest clubs on our patch, it would be easy for our sports pages to fall back on Arsenal gossip and match-reports. But we do not do that. Our reporters are down at the Sunday League and junior football games. They’re attending the local snooker and darts tournaments. They’re ring-side as the budding boxers land the first blows of their careers. On top of that, we have a regular column from our Gooner deputy-editor who is never shy of a controversial comment or two.

Finally we have a thick features and review section with specialist film, theatre and music editors who focus on giving a platform to local talent. With huge West End theatres on our doorstep it would be easy to pump out reviews from the big productions. Instead, our theatre reviewers spend their evenings in the likes of the Kings Head and the Old Red Lion giving vital support to off-West End productions.

The Islington Tribune continues to be the most read paper in the borough with a circulation topping 20,000.

We are a paper that is committed to producing outstanding local coverage. Will it be a yes from the Society of Editors’ judges this year?

Judges’ comments:

This title shows that just because you are free that doesn’t mean you are not a superb newspaper. Packed with local news and investigations, the paper’s team shows how close it is to the community it serves. The paper’s focus on the area’s hospital is comprehensive, its holding of the Mayor of London to account over local road deaths shows tenacity and guts.

Jewish News

Supporting statement:

Jewish News secures many sought-after interviews long before other Jewish titles and innovates where no other communal media has gone before. Hard-hitting front pages hold those in power to account and a uniquely informative and entertaining house style unashamedly shines through on every page. But first and foremost, engrained in its very DNA, Jewish News is a community newspaper. That means so much more than simply reporting news in print and online. It’s an ethos that has solidified the title’s place at the very heart of the community.

Judges’ comments:

Superb free paper that makes its mark. The style is bright and buzzy yet pulls no punches in holding the powerful to account. Great stuff.

Slough and Windsor Express

Supporting statement:

Last May we were honoured to be crowned free weekly newspaper of 2018 and we are determined to defend our title – although we haven’t had a state visit or two royal weddings (just the one from Lady Gabriella Windsor) we have still published a paper packed full of news ranging from crime, court and council coverage, charity news and heart-warming human interest stories.

The Slough and Windsor Express is an independent newspaper published by Baylis Media Ltd. We are owned by a charitable trust – the Louis Baylis Trust -which means 80 per cent of our (and our sister paid for weekly title The Maidenhead Advertiser) profits go back into the community in the form of grants (nicely explained on P2 of our Oct 24 edition).

Despite distributing thousands of pounds to good causes we are not immune to the challenges faced by local news publishers and our paper does vary in size week-to-week depending on advertising. Producing a smaller paper means we have had to get smarter in how we display our news and we have redesigned various elements to squeeze in as much news as possible on every page.

The editions I have submitted (May 24, Oct 18 and Dec 20) vary in size but I believe they demonstrate the top quality journalism we produce every week and prove that we are consistent. We produce a Slough edition and a Windsor edition, with the advertising wraps, front pages, P3 and the back page altering. Therefore it is important we reach the right balance of Slough/Windsor stories inside and we will often put stories with similar themes, such as council coverage, on opposite pages.

The May edition includes a strong front page “Foodbank sees demand double” with a striking picture of empty shelves which we hoped caught our readers attention. Despite Windsor being an affluent town there are still those that live in poverty and we believe it is our role to support charities, which help those in our community, as much as we can.

This edition also included an investigation into a man heavily involved with a local branch of the Royal British Legion claiming to have served in the Falklands war. This story took weeks to stand up following a tip-off from a Facebook group and as an independent publisher we had to tread carefully but our finished story does show we are not afraid of taking on difficult stories even if they take a bit longer to turn around.

The October edition features a front page about Slough council’s budget: “Borough council more than half a billion in debt” after figures were revealed in an annual treasury management report. We had previously reported that the council had spent £8m on an Odeon cinema in Basingstoke and £11m on a distribution centre in Bradford.
We believe it is our duty to hold local government to account and we try and cover as many meetings as possible to make sure our readers know what is going on – this edition includes six lead stories from council meetings. If the council is more than half a billion in debt than our council tax paying readers should be informed about this.

Lastly I have included our December edition because despite being slightly smaller in size it showcased our coverage of the general election. We cover three constituencies and wanted to give as much flavour from the night as possible.

The front page of this edition was from a court case we had been covering: “Jail for man who helped teen’s killers plan raid.” This was a historic murder, with a man recently being arrested and charged for his part in the killing of Daniel Higgins more than 16 years ago. Our reporter spoke to the family of the victim at court and we wanted to make sure their tribute to him was on the front page – as well as the sentence. As a small team we try and get out to court as much as possible because we believe it is a vital role of the local press.

Our editions feature original content, fun picture spreads, news from local schools and charities as well as the hard hitting stories involving council finances and historic murders. We are passionate about the communities we cover and believe it is our duty to serve them in the best way we can. I believe our newspapers showcase week-to-week that there is still a place for local papers in society and we strive to produce the best product we can with the resources we have.

Judges’ comments:

If a paper’s role is to hold the powerful to account, then the Slough and Windsor Express does just that. Not afraid to take on important voices in its community, the paper is prepared to reveal the less affluent side of a community which is usually associated with wealth and privilege. An undoubted asset to the area that it serves.

St Helens Star

Supporting statement

Campaigning for change, championing our wonderful community and celebrating the town’s magnificent rugby league team.

They have been the elements at the heart of the St Helens Star throughout 2019 – a year which saw our small editorial team take this news title to another level in print and online.

We have continued the Star’s drive for digital growth by strengthening our daily online coverage, reflected by the online audience grow to more than 14 million article page views across the year.

But the sharper focus on digital output – underpinned by engagement online with our large followings on various social media platforms – is actually helping the print newspaper.

It’s given us a greater range of dynamic content that our readers want and means there are even more powerful stories and pictures bursting from the pages.

Rugby league is woven through the fabric of St Helens’ history and, in Mike Critchley, we have one of the best and most knowledgeable writers in the business.

Readers devour his column inches, particularly in a year when their team is on top and if the Saints of 2019 had a fabulous year then so did Mike.

His features in the post-Grand Final served a perfect commentary on the story surrounding the club being crowned champions. At a time when the industry is perhaps under appreciative of local sports journalism, the Star’s work illustrating this sport is an example of how knowing a subject and executing top class coverage can enrich a local newspaper

Indeed, while the Star remains fundamentally a freely distributed newspaper to 40,000, quality such as this is why sales of the title have actually grown to beyond 2,400 per week.

Fighting the causes of our readers and championing our town is something that is a daily part of our job. The death of four-year-old Violet-Grace Youens in March 2017 following a hit-and-run was a case that shocked the country and devastated St Helens.

In 2019, Violet’s parents, increasingly frustrated by the Government’s failure to deliver on a promise to introduce stronger sentencing powers for judges to use against dangerous drivers who kill, set up a campaign calling for Violet-Grace’s Law.

With the Star’s backing (evidenced by powerful coverage in print and online), there was an incredible response, culminating in the then Prime Minister Theresa May having to respond in PMQs, a meeting with the then Justice Minister Rory Stewart, and finally a parliamentary debate.

The e-petition gathered more than 160,000 names – and was held up by the House of Commons Petitions Committee as a way the system should work. In fact when the committee wanted to brief the media ahead of the debate it was the Star’s offices that they chose to host a conference for the region’s journalists.

Becky and Glenn, Violet’s remarkable parents, have undoubtedly been the force behind this campaign – which is still waiting on the government to act. However, the work of the Star, in particular reporter Kelsey Maxwell, has helped to amplify their message, encouraging readers (via print, online and social) to back the campaign and to understand why the sentencing powers are too weak.

The Star undoubtedly has a tough edge; we’re in an area where there is serious crime week in week out – and we do not hold back in our coverage, exemplified by the front page of the newspaper (see submissions) highlighting the jailing of Leighton Holt, whose violent ways finally caught up with him.

But we also reflect what makes our community great, which, primarily is its people.

Throughout the year we highlight the town’s successes – and the in-paper supplement featuring coverage of the St Helens 10K (provided in the submissions) is just one example of how we throw our weight into covering events that reflect the achievements of towns people here.

That ability to reflect the light and dark, good and bad with balance, maturity and a strong editorial voice is one of the chief reasons why our brand remains strong and why readers love reading their Star.

Judges’ comments

A mature publication that loses nothing in the fact it is free. The St. Helens community are lucky to have such a dedicated, lively editorial team to cover their patch. Great rugby coverage.