- First of all, tell us a bit about yourself: education, hobbies, career etc.
I grew up in Sheffield where I was a regular on the local gig scene – I started reviewing live music aged 15-16 and I’ve loved writing my whole life. I did an English degree at Oxford University from 2015-2018 and then I did my NCTJ journalism diploma with News Associates in London from 2019-2020, but now I’m back in Sheffield. For my day job I work in Marketing for the creative media education provider, SAE Institute UK. My hobbies largely revolve around reading, writing and running The Indiependent, and my newsletter ‘The Peak District’, which is a journalism advice newsletter for people who don’t live in London. Outside of journalism, I love cooking and drawing.
- For those who don’t know, what is The Indiependent and why did you start it?
The Indiependent is a communal platform for early career stage journalists to gain experience. We publish entertainment and culture content across our music, film, TV, gaming, books, theatre, opinion and lifestyle sections. The reason I started the site is because I felt frustrated as a teenager about the lack of opportunities for inexperienced journalists, and I wanted to create a platform where editorial feedback and contributor development was a big part of the offer. Although there are lots of sites that work with volunteer contributors, I found that editors weren’t always able to give you feedback on your work and therefore you never improved. The end goal with The Indiependent is that early career stage journalists get good enough at writing and pitching that they can leave the site and go on to secure paid writing opportunities.
- The Indiependent is highly popular, having 11.5K followers on Twitter, how did you build up this following?
I launched the site in 2014 so that following didn’t happen overnight, and the project was initially galvanised by me having a substantial following on my personal Twitter account (@BettyKirkers). But the best ways to build a following on social media include posting regularly, making sure your content is professional and engaging, and also proactively following accounts that are relevant to your publication. So when we first launched The Indiependent, we followed lots of aspiring journalists and also student media publications and then this meant that through word of mouth, students across the country found out about us. I would also advise not trying to build a platform on too many different social media platforms – pick the social media sites that are most relevant to your audience, and focus your efforts on that. For us, Twitter makes sense as this is where most aspiring journalists can be found, but if you’re targeting a different demographic e.g. lifestyle bloggers or Gen Z, Instagram or TikTok might be better places for you to try and establish your brand.
- Can anyone write for the site?
We don’t require you to have any prior writing experience, the whole point of our platform is to give you a space to develop as a writer and hopefully gain the confidence you need to secure paid writing work. We do work with contributors around the world, but our site is in English so you need to be able to have a reasonable grasp of British English spelling, punctuation and grammar. We don’t work with freelancers, though, we invite people to apply to write for us: www.indiependent.co.uk/write-for-us
Applications are processed on a monthly basis, so if you don’t hear back straight away, don’t panic! And unfortunately, because we are a volunteer-led organisation we are not able to acknowledge receipt of applications – as we get hundreds each month and to do so would be far too time consuming.
- What were the challenges and how did you overcome them when creating and building The Indiependent?
There were lots of challenges along the way, the primary one being keeping the site going during an intensive degree course at Oxford and postgraduate study, which I did alongside full-time work. But that’s where the team of brilliant editors come in – the site definitely wouldn’t be what it is today without the team of editors who make sure we have a consistent output of high quality content. If you are going to launch your own site, definitely get people on board who you trust to get on with their job and who are great communicators, it makes the world of difference!
Another issue we have had to navigate is the ongoing debate about unpaid writing work. There’s always a lot of discourse in journalism communities about the ethics of asking people to do unpaid writing work or doing unpaid work yourself. While I’ve tried to monetise The Indiependent, and we do have a small ‘Writer of the Month’ cash award fund, we’re not yet profit-making which means that all editorial and contributor positions are voluntary. Since I’m not personally profiting from the site, I think there is a value there in terms of early career stage journalists getting i) feedback on their work and ii) a supportive community where they can ask questions and get better at pitching/writing. I think the fact that I get regular emails from people thanking me for the opportunities we’ve provided speaks for itself – as long as contributors enjoy writing for us and feel like they are getting something out of it, then that’s enough for me!
- What do you see for the future of The Indiependent?
We’ve gone from strength to strength in the last year, having launched a print magazine and surpassed the 250,000 view mark in one year. I’d love to see similar levels of growth this year, and who knows, maybe one day we will make enough from our different revenue streams to be able to pay contributors for their work.
- Did you always want to be a journalist? What inspired you to be a journalist?
My lifelong career goal is actually to be an author – and I wrote my first novel during lockdown 1.0 so I’m working on getting it published and realising that dream. But I think I started thinking about journalism as a profession as a teenager, because it felt like a more sensible answer to give grownups who were asking me: “So what do you want to do when you are older?”. Now that I have my NCTJ diploma and I’ve been freelancing for the last year, I have fallen in love with it, though. I am a fundamentally nosy person so I love having conversations with people, finding out what makes them tick, what gets them angry etc. and then trying to convey that to a reader. I love moving people with my writing, and I think great journalism is capable of doing that.
- Who are your favourite journalists?
I am a big fan of Terri White; Laura Snapes; Dolly Alderton; Bryony Gordon; Amelia Tait; Sirin Kale; Diyora Shadijanova and Annie Lord.
- Favourite news outlets?
I have subscriptions to gal-dem, The New York Times, The Times, The Telegraph, MIT Technology Review and I also read VICE, DAZED, i_D, The Guardian, The Forty-Five, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, WIRED and NME regularly.
- What are the highlights and challenges of being a freelance journalist?
The highlights are being able to write about things that you’re passionate about, and also being able to choose your colleagues – while freelancing is undoubtedly a lonely profession there are lots of online spaces where you can connect with other freelancers and build a community of like-minded people. The challenges are i) trying to get paid writing work – freelancing isn’t easy and you will experience a lot of rejection and ii) when you do get paid writing work, actually getting paid on time is a nightmare. I would advise anyone thinking of freelancing to i) do you research – most ‘freelance journalists’ have more reliable income streams such as a part-time job in hospitality/retail and/or different writing income streams such as copywriting, marketing, social media or ghostwriting. Try and set yourself up financially so that you don’t have to worry about money and you can pitch the ideas you really want to write.
- Do you think it is imperative to be on social media, and on Twitter in particular, as a journalist / to be a journalist?
I don’t think you have to be on social media, particularly if you find that being on social media has an adverse effect on your mental health. But it’s certainly useful – most of my story ideas come from things I see on Twitter; it’s often the space where editors post callouts for pitches; it’s also a great way to connect with and engage with other freelancers, to make freelancing feel less lonely. One thing I do recommend doing is being strict when you use social media – it’s very easy to doomscroll, but try and switch off well before you go to bed. There are also some great communities on other social media platforms such as Facebook – for instance, the Young Journalist Community.
- What are your top tips for those wanting to get into the journalism industry?
If we’re talking about people who haven’t ever written an article before, then find experience with sites like The Indiependent – other great sites are Empoword Journalism, Candid Orange, The Meridian Mag and Happy People Music. These are volunteer contributor positions, but the teams are super friendly and the editors are committed to helping you improve as a writer.
Once you have some experience as your belt, try your hand at pitching to publications who will be able to pay you for your work – don’t feel as if you have to have loads of unpaid writing experience before getting started as a freelancer. 2-3 bylines in a volunteer publication is all you need!
If you’re wanting to be a staff writer at a newspaper, then do some research into journalism qualifications as most local news sites and also most national graduate schemes require you to have the industry-standard qualification – for news roles this is the NCTJ, for magazines this is the NCTJ or PPA, and for broadcast roles it’s a BJTC qualification (this applies in the UK). You don’t need a journalism qualification to be a good journalist, but having media law training and shorthand will come in handy in these roles. If you are worried about the cost of these courses, then have a look to see if you are eligible for funding from the Journalism Diversity Fund.
- And top tips for those starting a career as a freelance journalist?
The first one is you are never too young to start pitching to the big publications. Do your research, learn what a pitch is and who send it to (Journo Resources is a fantastic resource for this).
The second one is to find your community of people – surround yourself with people who are in a similar stage of their careers to you, rely on them to sense check your ideas and read over pitches to spot typos you’ll have inevitably missed.
The third one is to keep going – you will experience imposter syndrome and feel like everyone else is getting paid bylines but you, and you will also get rejection email after rejection email. That is normal – it does not mean you are a terrible writer, and you should keep going! One day, your ideas will land!
To keep up with Beth, follow her on Twitter:
And follow The Indiependent here:
The Indiependent: https://www.indiependent.co.uk/