Today the Bedford Independent celebrates its first birthday and we’re delighted to share this milestone with you.
In the past year we’ve published 1,700 stories and had just under 1.9 million hits to our website. Quite frankly, we’re astounded by how far we’ve come in such a short time.
The Bedford Independent was set up to tackle the demise of local news head on. We’ve spent every day since we decided to set up this news desk trying to do just that.
Set up by former broadcast journalist, Paul Hutchinson; publisher and PR, Erica Roffe; and media sales professional, Julia Course-Crofts, the Bedford Independent prides itself on publishing the facts, without bias.
“We strive to tell the most balanced and factual story every time,” said co-managing editor Erica Roffe.
“Making sure we have balance and comment from as many people as we can may mean that sometimes we’re not the first to publish but our readers know we give them the full story.”
But it’s not just about reporting on the story that matters. A code of conduct also underpins everything published by the Bedford Independent.
“From the very first day that we started formulating our idea, we were very keen to become a regulated news desk,” explains Erica.
“Having a code of conduct means our readers can trust that we are ourselves accountable and if they are unhappy with what we publish they can object to an independent body.
“Our readers must trust that we deliver truly genuine editorial, or we aren’t doing what we set out to do.”
That code of conduct, IMPRESS Standards, aims to protect the public from invasive journalistic practices and unethical news reporting, while also assisting journalists by promoting and supporting their work.
Jonathan Heawood is the CEO of Impress: ‘At IMPRESS, we think that readers around the UK deserve to get news they can trust.
“That’s why we were delighted when the Bedford Independent signed up to our ten-point code of standards.
“At a time when the internet is awash with fake news and unreliable information, we all need to support quality journalism.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with the Bedford Independent team and we wish them well on their first birthday.”
Some of our most popular stories from the last 12 months
Wherever possible, Bedford Independent has been the first, and often, the only news desk at the scene of breaking news.
This was no more apparent on the 4 January 2019 when the Bedford Independent was the only news desk reporting from the the scene of the fire at Bedford’s North Wing Hospital.
I was the only journalist in the fire cordon and had exclusive access to Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller who helped me keep Bedfordians updated with what was really happening.
It was an incredible night. Yes it was very sad to see Shires House go up in flames but it was also so important to be there to witness the event.
Being on the scene meant that people watching us live on social media and on our website were able to get the facts.
There was so much rumour elsewhere and we were the only one telling people exactly what was happening. Our reports were even picked up by national media who repeated our story far and wide.
What was also so apparent, and showed another important factor of local news was how it gave the local community a chance to talk about their own memories of Shires House.
Our Facebook page became a memories board for hundreds of Bedfordians who wanted to tell people their connection to Bedford’s North Wing Hospital.
Here we were watching this historical building burn down and people were keeping it alive by telling the world how important Shires House was to them and the town.
We have to report things that are hard to swallow
Bedford, like any other town, has its issues. Shops closing, crime on our streets, and people struggling to make ends meet.
While difficult subjects to talk about, talk about them we must or they won’t inspire people to do something about them.
The whole point of local news is to report what is happening. We must never put a shine on it for the sake of it, that will do more damage in the long run.
Crime is always difficult to report on, but working closely with police we are able to help appeal for witnesses and bring offenders to justice.
Whether it’s to report on a road closure, appeal for witnesses to a crime, or to help find a missing person, Bedfordshire Police have always been open with our reporters.
“Local media plays a hugely important role in keeping communities updated,” says David Old, Deputy Head of Communications at Bedfordshire Police.
“Sadly, however, local journalism has suffered over recent years, so it has been great to see an independent news outlet being set up in Bedford to help build that community spirit and identity that is so important for a town.”
But it’s not just about keeping our readers informed of police activity, it’s also important that we work on behalf of local people to ensure public bodies like the police are held to account.
Something that David recognises: “Crucially, local news outlets also hold the police and other public services to account – scrutiny that we at Bedfordshire Police welcome as we recognise the role it plays in building trust and confidence with the people we serve.
“We have found that the Bedford Independent team are always careful to establish the facts behind any story and give a fair and balanced report to its readers.
“We value the Bedford Independent as part of that local news network which allows us an impartial platform to showcase some of the great work we are doing in Bedford and provide reassurance on issues that matter to our communities.
“We look forward to continue to working with them for many years to come.”
It’s about celebrating Bedford
While we have had to report on those difficult subjects, we’ve also got behind Bedford at every possible moment.
Some of our most popular stories over the last year have been celebrating the launch of new and unique shops in Bedford, supporting the Save our M&S campaign and championing the places and people that engender pride in our town.
“It’s vital that we positively support businesses and events that aim to raise the profile of the town,” said Erica.
“By spreading the word – whether it’s for a film screening, a food festival or a shop opening – we’re changing perceptions of Bedford.
“It’s heartening to see the huge numbers of people who are interested and supportive of these kind of stories. To me, that confirms that there’s a lot of love and pride for Bedford among residents.”
Here’s to the next 12 months
While what we write is very much with our local communities in mind, we are a commercial operation and so we do need to sell advertising to be able to do what we do.
What sets us apart though is we won’t do this at the detriment of our reading experience.
Julia Course-Crofts is our commercial director and says that hits to our website are what is most important. “We never set out to be a news desk full of adverts, we all know pop ups and surveys just get in the way.
“Thanks to this, alongside our great editorial, we get more readers than any other news desk in the area.
“Our advertisers recognise that by buying space on our website it’s money well spent, as they’re seen by 115,000 unique visitors a month.
“We also offer jobs, estate agent listings and public notices. Just like you’d expect in a traditional newspaper but on your desktop or phone, wherever you are.”
The Bedford Independent is still a young business and we’re still working hard to get the resources to do what we really feel Bedford deserves.
“We have big plans to get more people connected to local news across Bedford Borough,” adds Erica.
“Working with IMPRESS, our investors, our advertisers, the local organisations that send us their stories, and our readers, we can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring.
“We want to create a more wide reaching network of news, and also support young journalists and writers with paid work.
“In fact it’s the young writers that we must nurture to make sure local news continues for many years to come and we’re already very grateful to have had the chance to work with some wonderful talent on our doorstep.
“Will Hooley, Hannah Brown, Tom Carr, Harry McPhail, and Sophia Baker have all cut their teeth with us and they all have bright writing careers ahead of them.”
And education across Bedford is something we are proud to support, working closely with organisations like the Harpur Trust so support young people wherever we can.
Sarah Elam is external relations manager at The Harpur Trust: “It’s been a great pleasure to work with the Bedford Independent team over the past 12 months.
“They tackle the issues but always in a fair and balanced way. They are genuinely Bedford focussed and have fast become the first port of call for obtaining reliable, immediate and relevant news.
“We are delighted to be working with them on a number of projects, from staff writing workshops to the forthcoming Everyday Hero awards for which we are proud to be headline sponsor.
“Congratulations to you all on this key anniversary and may there be many more to come.”
It’s been a great year for the Bedford Independent, it’s been an even bigger year for Bedford. Here’s to the next 12 months.