Opinion: We’re ranked number two in the UK, but what does that mean?

Hold the front page Ipsos news data article Feb 2024
Image: Hold The Front Page

The life of a news editor is never dull. Each morning it’s impossible to predict what you’ll be doing that day, and what you’ll be writing about in your latest column.

I was supposed to write about fake newspapers and political spin today, that’s what all my emails and phone calls through the week had been in preparation for, but that was thrown out of the window (at least for now) at about 10:40 on Friday morning.

I’d just got off the phone with our local MPs office when Erica Roffe and I were tagged in a WhatsApp message in a group for local independent news editors.

The latest Ipsos local news readership data had been released and the Bedford Independent had recorded stand-out figures.

Read: Independent title storms user engagement chart in monthly IPSOS figures

Ispos records the figures as part of their work to understand UK online audiences and how people use digital sources of information, of which news is an integral part.

One way they do this is to look at the websites of local newspapers so they can see how they’re being used and how they compare to others.

It turns out that of the 218 titles from across the UK in the study, the Bedford Independent is ranked second for engagement, that’s the length of time people stay on our site, with an average of 9.48 minutes per visit.

That’s second against giants like The Standard (in London), The Yorkshire Post, and Manchester Evening News. Second against publishers with hundreds of titles and teams of people focussed on finding ways to make their sites more popular than the rest.

Big deal, so what?

So, what exactly does this mean?

For those who don’t know, keeping someone on your website for as long as possible is a good thing. It tells search engines like Google that you’re delivering the content people want and expect to see. It shows you’re genuine and of good quality.

While we also want to attract as many readers as we can, more on how we’re doing well in those figures too in a moment, it’s no good if people hit our website and only stay long enough to read a few lines before going elsewhere.

It’s also our job to make sure we deliver the daily news, the stories that you want and/or need to know about, but it’s also important to provide the things that partner perfectly with those day in day out articles.

(l-r) Erica Roffe, Julia Course and Paul Hutchinson. Image: Two-D Photography
(l-r) Erica Roffe, Julia Course and Paul Hutchinson. Image: Two-D Photography

Things like sports, culture, jobs, business, community, and events. The things that you might not always be looking out for, but are just as important to make sure you are fully aware of what’s happening on your doorstep.

As a news desk, we need to make sure that we’re always providing these things so the average Bedfordian can make the most of their home town. While a reader may come to our site for one thing, we want them to leave having found out so much more.

It’s not enough for news desks to simply write about the latest crime figures or political tit-for-tat arguments, they also need to show the positives, the fun things, the people making a difference, and celebrate why we’re proud to cover our patch.

That’s why we launched the Bedford Independent Heroes Awards, it’s why we created a good news filter and it’s why we work so hard to make sure the Bedford Clanger remains an integral part of Bedford’s cultural DNA.

This is why, I believe people stay on our site for an average of nine minutes, even if they only paid a visit to read one article. But, of course, we do need to attract lots of readers in the first place.

Other stats recorded by Ipsos for January 2024 look at how many readers we have and how many pages they read between them. It looks like we’re smashing those stats too, particularly when you compare us to the only other genuine news source in the Borough.

Overall audience (unique users)

Bedford Today163,575
Bedford Independent89,337

Page Views

Bedford Independent725,935
Bedford Today476,753

While you’ll notice that the Bedford Times & Citizen (T&C) (whose print circulation is just 21,000 copies per week) has more online readers, this is mostly down to the larger area they cover and the non-Bedford-related content they post online.

Our monthly readership figures also fluctuate based on news events throughout the year and our own independent readership data shows we have an average of 130,000 monthly unique readers over the year.

But their readers only stay on their site for an average of two minutes and read less than half the pages of a Bedford Independent reader. T&C visitors are only reading an average of three pages compared to the eight of a Bedford Independent reader.

We’ll leave you to interpret what that means for yourself.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t about bashing our colleagues at the T&C who are consummate professionals and continue to work very hard to deliver local news with ever-decreasing resources.

Much of the problem here, is a problem facing newsrooms across the world and is the fault of poor decisions being made by corporate bean counters who are more interested in their bonuses and shareholder return than what works at a local level.

Local news has been facing this issue for many years, it’s what forced the Beds on Sunday to close (despite claims it was one of their owner’s few titles making money) and it’s why their successor website BedsLive also closed earlier this year.

Read: The titles which opened and closed in 2023

Part-timers and volunteers

Independent titles across the world have since come in to do what needs to be done (and should never have stopped being done in the first place), delivering local news that means something to local people.

Julia, Erica and I started the Bedford Independent to be the newspaper we’d like to read.

A newspaper that published factual and balanced news about where we love.

A newspaper that might not always be first but is consistent in its presentation and professionalism to deliver the full story.

A newspaper that celebrated our Borough as well as being a critical friend asking how it could do better.

A newspaper that is regulated and holds itself to high ethical standards so readers could hold us to account.

A newspaper that values its relationships with businesses and readers equally, not just for commercial reasons but for the greater good of the area we cover and the people we write about.

A newspaper that doesn’t write sensationalist stories or those designed to ‘get clicks’ but those that are important to local communities and individuals.

Along the way, we’ve been joined by a whole army of volunteers who have helped increase our coverage or worked behind the scenes to enhance and improve what we do. None more so than Tom Carr who edits our news coverage.

He attends games, speaks to clubs for match reports and other exclusives, and manages a team of young sports reporters, also volunteering, to get them the experience they need for a successful future journalism career.

Read: Bedford Independent sports coverage

His passion for sport is vital for a local news website that genuinely cares about its patch. Bedford needs it, Bedford deserves it and Bedford must have it.

But there’s one more member of our team that also has to be thanked for making the Bedford Independent a success and that’s you, the Bedford Independent reader.

By reading our news you’ve given us a reason to keep doing it, by giving us feedback you’ve helped us to improve, by writing letters and comments on our social pages you’ve helped inspire debate about anything and everything to do with Bedford life.

You’ve already done so much to help support us and we cannot thank you enough, but we need that support to continue.

Tom Carr
Bedford Independent’s sports editor, Tom Carr also supports efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues

Please do keep reading our articles, please do keep telling your local friends and colleagues about us, please do sign up for our daily email (if you haven’t already) and please do pick up a copy of the Bedford Clanger when you’re out and about in Bedford.

Keep local news alive

No one working for the Bedford Independent is full-time, imagine what we could do if we were? So if you’re able to, please do consider supporting us commercially too.

If you’re a local business, it’s clear that we are the best place to make sure local people know who you are, where you are and what you do. You can support local news and grow your business or the awareness of your organisation at the same time by advertising with us.

Simply email ads@BedfordIndependent.co.uk or head to our commercial pages to find out more. You might be surprised at how much we can help with even the smallest of budgets.

If you don’t run a business or want to just support local news as an individual, you can also make a donation. Just £5 from every Bedford Independent reader could keep us going for ten years.

Donate here

However, you support us, and for whatever amount, we promise you that it will be used to improve and grow local news coverage in Bedford Borough and, maybe one day, beyond.

In our fifth year, having overcome the challenges of Brexit, a global pandemic, a cost of living crisis, and the ongoing debate about whether we’re in a recession or not, things appear to be turning a corner and personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Keep Local news Alive in Bedfordshire