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Newspapers seek Amherst ideas

Nick Grabbe

Michael Greenebaum thinks the Amherst Bulletin should review local musical productions and not reprint so many Daily Hampshire Gazette stories.

Town Councilor Andy Steinberg wants the newspapers to provide information about important decisions before they are made.

Meg Gage believes the newspapers should not “fuel controversy” and should try to help the town move forward.

About 30 people gathered at Amherst Coffee last Wednesday, at the invitation of three leaders of the Gazette and Bulletin, to give their thoughts about how the newspapers could serve the town better. Gazette Editor Brooke Hauser said she will be overseeing the Bulletin, and will consider how to expand coverage and add more original material.

Michael Moses, the advertising director, said, “We’re taking steps to make sure we’re serving the community.” Publisher Aaron Julien also attended the brainstorming session.

Many of the suggestions harked back to the Amherst Bulletin of the late 1980s, when the weekly free newspaper averaged 36 to 40 pages and was composed mostly of material that was separate from what the Gazette published. Back then, the Bulletin and Gazette had 13 full-time employees based in their Amherst office, and 20 to 25 part-time writers. Today, the newspapers do not even have an office in Amherst, and longtime reporter Scott Merzbach is based in Northampton and writes about many towns.

There has been too much disruption of the newspaper industry since then for the level of coverage 30 years ago to return within a print medium. In the late 1980s, if you wanted to express an opinion about a local issue, you had few choices besides writing a letter to Bulletin or Gazette. To say that the options have expanded is an understatement.

The Bulletin and Gazette were once the place to go if you wanted to sell a car or find a roommate, but Craigslist has almost completely stolen that revenue stream. The advertising options for businesses have also grown. The 52-page Amherst Bulletin of Dec. 7, 1988, with 65 percent of it advertising, is not coming back.

Hauser wrote down all the suggestions and will consider ways to make the Bulletin more relevant to Amherst. The way that residents get news and information is in transition right now, more so than at any time since the early 1980s, when there were four weekly newspapers based in Amherst, plus the Gazette.

Many of the suggestions at last Wednesday’s meeting involved arts and events coverage. Carolyn Holstein said there isn’t enough coverage of classical music, while Greenebaum said that arts coverage should be modeled on sports coverage. Gage suggested coverage of summer theater and using Valley Advocate theater reviewer Chris Rohmann.

Some residents spoke about government coverage. John Coull said readers don’t turn to the Gazette for national and international news. Hilda Greenbaum said she has no clue about what’s happening in planning and zoning. Carol Pope wants more coverage of Town Council subcommittees. Alan Root wants more stories about problems in senior housing, where he lives, and said headlines don’t always reflect what’s in a story.

Coull pleaded for more Amherst reporters, saying the newspapers concentrate too much on Northampton. Greenebaum suggested fewer editorials. Therese Brady Donahue said the newspaper should have a weekly column on an Amherst organization. Sarah McKee asked how a resident can get an op-ed published.

Paul Peelle said doesn’t understand why the Monday Gazette is so small, because there have been two days since the last one appeared. He said he missed two features of the 1980s Bulletin: the weekly weather recaps from Phillip Ives and reviews of Valley Light Opera performances.

Ginny Hamilton suggested side-by-side op-eds on different sides of an issue, and more voices of children, such as coverage of a recent Crocker Farm debate over chocolate milk. Local professors could write about their research, she said.

Town Council member Alisa Brewer asked why someone should pay for the Gazette when the same stories about Amherst are available for free in the weekly Bulletin. She recommended elimination of editorials and running more letters, and asked for more coverage of the Planning Board and ZBA.

Greenebaum said that if the Bulletin didn’t duplicate so much of the Gazette’s content, he’d be willing to pay for it.

While many of the suggestions at the brainstorming session were helpful in charting the future course of the newspapers, others evinced a nostalgia for bygone days and are no longer feasible within the current structure of the Bulletin and Gazette. It will be interesting to see how the newspapers will act on them.

Nick Grabbe was the editor of the Amherst Bulletin from 1980 to 1999.

 

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