Sometime back in late March or early April, the Amherst Indy should have celebrated one year of publication. Should have, but didn’t, because at the time we were focused on the Coronavirus emergency. In lieu of a belated celebration, we think it is worthwhile to at least mention that we have been around for a year, that we have learned a lot in the process, and that we intend to keep going as we come out of the crisis of the pandemic and take on the challenges that it has posed for our community.
The date of our official birthday is imprecise. The Indy was imagined in a series of conversations among Laura Quilter, Maria Kopicki, and me in the late fall of 2018. We composed a mission statement at the time in which we committed to an all-volunteer community journalism project dedicated to transparency in government, to authentic democracy, and to progressive values. We remain committed to that mission statement. We began by publishing a couple of sample issues in late March and early April, and became a weekly, in earnest toward the end of April 2019.
We assembled our editorial board around that time consisting of Kitty Axelson-Berry, Steve Braun, Marla Jamate, Bill Kaizen, Quilter, and me. That board is still intact, although Kaizen and Jamate are currently on sabbatical. I have taken on the duties of Managing Editor, coordinating day-to-day operations of the project.
We started by posting articles as they trickled in and by the end of April 2019 had moved to posting five to seven articles each week, mostly consisting of reports on the meetings of the Town Council and its key committees.
Indy By The Numbers
Since then we have published 580 articles by 62 unique contributors, about a dozen of whom write regularly for the Indy, publishing at least one article a month. Their names and bios can be found in the Who We Are section of the menu bar at the bottom of any Indy page.
Since our inception we have published 340 news stories, 130 opinion pieces and letters, and 110 feature stories and photos. By late summer 2019 we were publishing about 10 articles per week and since the pandemic our weekly editions have featured about 15 articles per week. This week is our largest edition ever, with 25 new postings.
After several months of publication we offered a Comment feature, which we hoped would draw members of the community into discussions about timely issues. Commenting initially required a subscription and sign-in to participate, and was not used much. We removed those requirements in the fall of 2019 and opened up commenting to anyone who would sign their comment with their real name and email address. This requirement was to help us avoid spam, of which we receive a modest amount daily. But we also want to promote constructive and civil dialogue within our community and for that it helps to know who you are talking to. To date, we have received 281 comments which lately has come to about 10 per week. We would like to receive more! We are especially appreciative of the small group of early risers who get up on Saturday morning to read the Indy when the weekly dispatch appears in their inbox at 6 AM and then post comments well before 8 AM.
We aspire to make the Indy a venue for active conversation about important issues in town, and to that end we’ll be doing our best to encourage people to participate in the Comment section and to share letters with us about matters of interest to them and to our community.
The Indy remains free to all and free from advertising. We have grown slowly to a subscriber list of about 700, well below the target of 1,500 that we set for the end of 2019. (I say about because I still can’t quite figure out how to manage the two different programs that track and manage our unmerged subscription lists). A subscription gets the subscriber a weekly digest of the week’s stories and a promise that we will not share contact information or fill their inbox with unwanted mail. We know that there are a lot of folks out there who are not subscribers and who read the Indy regularly and we are grateful for their attention and for when they comment on the page or write to us or when they simply turn to the Indy to be better informed about the goings on in town.
Our Second Year
Looking to our second year, we see a number of challenges facing both Amherst and the Indy. We remain aware of the crisis of local journalism and the death of small town papers around the country.
We see the crisis of local journalism as entangled with the crisis of democracy that we are now experiencing. We see ourselves as allies to our local commercial papers (the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Valley Advocate, Amherst Bulletin, and MassLive) and we will support them as we are able, and encourage our readers to support them as they are able. We send a shoutout to our friends at the Shoestring in Northampton, another free online outlet for local news and commentary. We applaud them for their efforts to bring critical journalism and media criticism to their community.
We see a need to talk about “where we want to land” in our own community following the pandemic and we hope to use the Indy to promote discussion of the issues and challenges that the pandemic has handed us. Of most immediate concern is the FY2021 budget, which requires us to rethink many of our pre-pandemic assumptions about spending and needs and priorities.
Technically, we’re looking for some additional tweaks including the addition of tracking software which would allow us to track how many clicks each article gets so we can then tell you what is the most read article each week. We recently added share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we’d like to know which articles (if any) are being shared on social media. Right now we can’t track that but we’d like to — and we’d like to encourage you to share articles on social media that you think might be enjoyed by others. It’s always a thrill for us when we run into one of our articles on someone’s Twitter or Facebook feed.
We begin our second year with the same appeal that we made when we began. To be a successful community journalism project and to promote a vibrant democracy we need more readers and more writers. Thank you for reading! Please consider writing something for us. This is Amherst, after all, where only the “h” is silent. We would love to hear from you. We’re certain you have something to say about the state of affairs in Amherst and beyond. So please write comments on our articles, or write us a letter, or just drop us a note to let us know you’re out there and we’ll talk about what’s important to you and how you can use the Indy to let others know. And please share the Indy with your friends and neighbors.
We’ll do our best to keep you informed.