My Blog Grew Bigger Than I Ever Anticipated

I started a platform for aspiring journalists in 2014 which has been growing and growing ever since

In 2014 I decided to start a blog. I was 16 years old and had been writing for a number of music review websites for free. I really enjoyed attending live music events and seeing them cross my name off the guestlist. I enjoyed writing my review and seeing it published on a professional looking site. I enjoyed getting review copies of albums, hearing my favourite artists’ work before the rest of the world.

But after a while I started to think to myself that it’s great that I’m getting my name out there but I’m not actually getting any constructive feedback about my writing. I wish there was someone who, after editing my latest submission, took the time to tell me what they liked about my work and what they thought could be improved next time.

One day, I got an email from an anonymous stranger giving me some constructive criticism about my most recent live review. I still have the email, I printed it out and I look at it every now and again as a way of reminding myself how far I have come as a writer.

They told me three main things:

Firstly, your reviews always start at the start. They shouldn’t. Starting at the start is alright if the reader went to the gig and just wants to read a report. But what about the person who, for example, didn’t see The Crookes at The Leadmill? You need to give them a reason in the first few paragraphs to keep reading — otherwise you’ve lost half your audience straight away. You need to start with the most interesting bit. I didn’t go to their Sheffield show but was at the gig in Manchester. At one point, the entire band walked out into the crowd and played right in the middle, which was amazing — that’s where my review would have begun, I reckon.

Secondly, you describe music wonderfully but occasionally try and use more adjectives that aren’t related to sound. Be abstract. Use colour, food, literature, history, geology, mythology, whatever, to describe songs and how they make you feel. One of my favourite ever lines was before I’d heard The Cribs. It described them as: “The Strokes and The Libertines having a drunken fight in a Wakefield backstreet” — I knew exactly how they’d sound from that. It needs imagination and humour — but I’ve read your tweets so I know you definitely have both, Beth.

And thirdly, try not to use phrases like ‘to be honest’ or ‘in my opinion’. So many writers do this and it always makes me want to shout at the screen: it’s your review, I expect you to be honest anyway, you don’t need to make it explicit!

It was after reading this anonymous email that I decided to create my own blog, which I would open up to other young, aspiring journalists like myself and we would all give each other constructive criticism on our work with the ultimate goal of becoming better writers in the long run.

Little did I know that email would have such a lasting impact on my life

The platform was originally launched on Tumblr, before being moved to a site in 2015. There were a lot of learning curves along the way, primarily involving technical and design challenges. I have changed the logo and site layout more times than I care to admit, but our branding is finally at a stage where I am happy that it reflects our ethos.

The name was admittedly a little unimaginative — The Indiependent — but it stuck (there is a national newspaper in the UK called The Independent). I created social accounts, and with a substantial Twitter following of my own, I was able to get about 8,000 followers quite quickly. All of a sudden I had teenagers from schools and sixth forms across the UK and even internationally emailing me and asking if they could write for my site.

Our output quickly expanded from music reviews to books, film, television, games, politics and world affairs. We had writers who wanted to talk about art, so we created a culture section. The number of articles being written and the number of contributors signing up quickly grew beyond a level I could manage independently whilst also being in full time education, so I roped in a few of my friends as editors of our emergent sections.

I was so overwhelmed with applications that I had to rope in others to help me edit the site

It’s been five years now since I first started the website, and we have published over 3,000 articles to date. Our contributor team has changed a lot since I first launched the site, with many of the original team going on to study Journalism, English, History, Film or Media at university level. A few of our team members have gone on to have successful careers with print or broadcast media outlets, landing coveted graduate scheme positions, or apprenticeships. I myself studied English at Oxford University, and am now studying part-time for my NCTJ Journalism diploma.

All this time, contributors have kept rolling in — this month alone we have welcomed nine new writers to the team. There are young people out there that want to write, who want people to see their work. Rather than investing time and energy learning marketing and social media skills potentially for their work to still only reach a handful of their friends and family members, they come to us.

We are giving aspiring journalists a platform, and we are helping them find their voice. I take the time to read each new writer’s work and give them genuine, constructive feedback about how their work could be even better next time. That’s not to say I think I’m the best writer in the world, though. All I can do is pass on the advice I have received over the years, including the feedback I got in that anonymous email all those years ago.

I haven’t monetised the blog beyond putting ads on the site to cover hosting, which many people have failed to understand. We don’t run clickbait, and we don’t have video content, which would be sure fire ways of making more money.

Nor do I pay the contributors — which we state very clearly at the point of sign up — but that hasn’t been a problem so far. I run writer of the month awards out of my own pocket, to reward those who have done particularly good work. There are separate rewards for short and long form articles so those who are of an in-depth approach get rewarded alongside those who like to produce short, snappy news articles.

For my team of emerging writers, it’s not about money — it’s about helping them find their voice and establish their niche, and you can’t put a price on that. It’s about helping them cultivate their portfolio, teaching them to be confident and consistent in their output, and connecting them with people all over the world who can read and feedback on their work.

Why do I do this for free, you ask? Well, all I know is, if I hadn’t received that kind email from a total stranger on 13 August 2014, I very much doubt that you would be reading this article today.

Have you got an unlikely success story when it comes to blogging? Share yours below.

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The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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