Nexus Meets... Industry

Nexus Meets… Industry – Beth Kirkbride, Owner of The Indiependent.

Here at Nexus, we are back with a renewed focus on our Nexus Meets… Feature. I have spent some time looking at blogs and sites that have an influence on myself as a budding writer and reviewer. Whilst also remaining aware of specific outlets that will be beneficial to our audience in terms of music discovery and reputable sources.

I didn’t need to look far, with The Indiependent being one of my personal favourite sites to delve into ever since I began my journey of music discovery. Founder and owner Beth Kirkbride has done a fantastic job of shaping the site and inviting writers into the community that resides behind the scenes. Always aiming to be encouraging and friendly to approach, Beth is someone who takes pride in the direction that her writers bring to her. With the many sections on The Independent aimed at giving purpose, experience and meaning to the writers who occupy the columns and stories found on the site.

The Indiependent
The Indiependent

It was a great pleasure to talk to Beth and to get to pick her brains on The Indiependent and her journey as a writer, person and site owner.

For those who may not know, in your own words, what is The Indiependent? And what does it represent in its entirety?

The Indiependent is an online entertainment platform that provides aspiring journalists with a platform for their work, as well as ongoing constructive criticism about their writing. The aim is for young people to hone their unique style under the guidance of our editorial team – who are all keen to help lift others up and amplify their voice. The work that our team of talented writers produces gives our readers with a smorgasbord of content covering all things culture: Music, Books, Film, TV, Gaming, World Affairs, Lifestyle, Art and as of the last week or two – theatre as well!

What inspired the name, ‘The Indiependent’?

I’m not entirely sure, I think it was probably a combination of the fact that I was predominantly known on Twitter and Tumblr as being heavily into ‘indie’ music at the time. The blogging platform Tumblr is where I used to post disposable photos from gigs I’d been to, and it is also where a lot of the original writing team came from – we even hosted the site on Tumblr to begin with, before I learned that WordPress was a better platform to host a blog when you have multiple collaborators.

What are the most challenging hurdles that come with running The Indiependent?

Generally, time constraints. I run the site alongside working full time in Marketing, and I’m also studying part-time for my NCTJ Journalism diploma which means commuting to London two days a week. Prior to that, I studied English at university and so had to keep the site ticking along whilst also managing my degree workload, and a part time waitressing job. Luckily for me I have a talented team of editors who are really on the ball and do a great job of making sure we have a regular output of content. But I do wish I had more time to commit to making the site even better – that’s the curse of being a perfectionist, there’s always things to tweak!

Secondly, the fact that we don’t make money and so can’t pay our writers frustrates me. I feel slightly uncomfortable about this fact, but I do try and compensate for it by running writer of the month prizes when I have spare income. Part of the problem is that we make peanuts from ad revenue despite getting lots of traffic, and some of the other ways of monetising a blog don’t work with our business model. For instance, I get a lot of people asking me to host sponsored posts and put backlinks to their own sites for a fee, but this goes against the point of the website, which is genuine journalism from young people. Our readers will switch off if we produce that kind of content, which is why I’ve not given in to this quick-income solution.

In your experience, what makes a site ‘successful’? And what would you consider ‘success’ to look like from the view of The Indiependent?

I think if you ask most people, they define the success of their blog or site in commercial terms – i.e. the site making money and supporting the people who contribute to it. But like I said, that isn’t the purpose of The Indiependent. For me, success is when our writers ask me to give a reference, or message me after landing a role with a national publication and say thank you for helping them to find their feet, or rather, their voice, in a fiercely competitive and often dog-eat-dog industry. Being successful for me is when I see our writers to go on to pursue bigger and better opportunities – I like to think of ourselves as a training school for journalists, and I feel incredibly proud when our writers fly the nest.

What are the three best bits of advice that you can give to someone looking to setup their own site?

  1. Do your research and don’t spend any money until you are sure it’s a wise investment. I wasted hundreds of pounds in the beginning because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was paying for a account when I should have set up the website on using a hosting provider such as GoDaddy. I spent lots of money on website themes, when there are plenty of great free versions. Don’t get your credit card out until you’re absolutely certain it will contribute to the success of your site. There are lots of great resources and how to guides on the internet, but you should be wary that these people often have an agenda e.g. they’re raving about a certain platform because they’re being paid to promote it.
  2. Write with other people – it helps you to stay motivated and to produce regular content. The way The Indiependent started was by slowly spreading through word of mouth to people who ran their own blogs but felt a bit like they were throwing their work into a void where no one ever read it. Having a supportive community is the single biggest thing you can create to ensure you will have the motivation to keep your site going in the long run, and if you all share each others’ work then you get a bigger network anyway. I’ve met some incredibly inspiring people along the way who I would never have come into contact with otherwise – and that’s all thanks to the internet!
  3. Start small – we started as a Music website in 2014, it’s only because we have the contributors who are keen to produce content for other sections that we expanded our range of content to cover all aspects of culture. If it was just me running the blog there’s no way I would be able to cover everything. Find your niche early on, and get really good at writing in it before you think about branching out into a different subject area.

You attribute your love of Harry Potter fanfiction in your early life to the voice that you found within writing. Following this, you acknowledge that the fanfiction articles are “time capsules of my teenage development”. Would it be fair to say that The Indiependent is the accumulation of those experiences of your teenage development? And how do you feel The Indiependent now ties in with your growth and role as both an adult and a supporter of emerging writers?

Writing Harry Potter fanfiction predated The Indiependent – it was the first time I tried writing on the internet, and I got a positive response so I realised I wasn’t completely terrible. Combined with doing well in English at school, it’s what made me realise that I could make a living out of writing. But I think The Indiependent is a more serious endeavour than writing fanfiction ever was – I’ve certainly invested more time and money into it. I wrote a lot more on the site at the very beginning, so in some ways these articles are time capsules of my evolution as a journalist – and that’s the case for many of our editorial team who have been around since the very beginning. That’s what the site is all about: growth and development as writers, and I think if it wasn’t possible to see that sense of progression we’d be doing something wrong. The Indiependent has given a lot of people a voice and a platform and I think that that sort of exposure is invaluable to a lot of our team, many of whom have gone on to land industry gigs as a result of writing for us. I hope that the site has given others confidence, in the same way that writing fanfiction when I was 14-15 gave me confidence.

Reading various articles from yourself, it feels as if The Indiependent isn’t just a site with various interests. It comes across as a community behind the scenes. It feels as if you put a lot of focus on support, freedom and encouragement for your writers. From your perspective, just how important is it for a writer to have that level of support?

It’s incredibly important – like I said, it’s one of the main bits of advice I would give to someone looking to start a blog: surround yourself with a community who can cheer you on when the going gets tough. The way we operate is through a Facebook group, which is where we offer things up to review, congratulate one another and organise any sort of meetup (we have done a few meetups so far, but not as many as I would like in the five years the site has been running). Communicating by a private Facebook group is much better than solely operating by email, which can seem a little impersonal at times. I would hope that any one of our writers feels like they can message me to talk about writing, career advice or even to get personal issues off their chest. I think it’s part of the fact that we’ve built such a supportive community – where we all share each other’s work on our social feeds etc. – that has kept the site going for so long now.

Whilst you undoubtedly give a lot to the writers and the team that are working alongside you. What is it that you get out of owning and operating The Indiependent from a personal and emotional perspective?

I get the knowledge that I am helping people just like myself to get their careers off the ground, I get to know that there are 15-year-old kids excitedly showing their parents an article they wrote for us, I get a warm fuzzy feeling when someone messages me to ask for a reference or tells me they landed a role with a media outlet, in part because of what I’ve helped them achieve. That’s really all I need to get out of it. It’s a really incredible thing to be a part of and I’m so grateful to the team of editors who keep it running day in, day out.

One of my most interesting finds when doing research for this interview is regarding an email that you received which critiqued your writing style in August of 2014. You mention that this would later help you improve as a writer.

If you were given the chance to send an email back to yourself, from where you are now, what would that email look like?

I would tell myself that you should try to care less about what other music people are listening to and just focus on what makes you happy (I’m now a firm believer that nobody should be afraid to declare their love for Taylor Swift, but at the time that didn’t really fit my ‘indie’ image). I would tell myself that the journey to a successful writing career doesn’t have a set path you have to walk, and it doesn’t matter if you take a few detours along the way for the sake of your mental health (I stopped and restarted my NCTJ Journalism diploma after a period where I was struggling with my mental health). I would tell myself not to give up. I would tell myself that to be a good writer you need to be a voracious reader. I would tell myself that I am proud of myself and all that I have accomplished, and would say that it’s important to never stop doing something if it makes you happy.

Let’s end on a slightly more exciting question. What is in store in the future for The Indiependent?

I hope that once I have my NCTJ diploma I will be able to commit more time to the site, continuing to give young people an opportunity to try their hand at journalism. Perhaps in the future, I will have the resources to monetize the site and pay people for all their hard work, but that’s very much a ‘maybe’ at the moment. We’ve recently launched regular newsletters and are slowly growing our subscriber base, so I’m quite excited about that because it’s one way that we can interact more with our readership and reward regular readers with exclusive content. After my course finishes late in November I should hopefully have a bit more time to commit to the site, and it’s definitely owed some long-overdue attention – so watch this space!

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