A Digital Journey of a Thousand Miles

Begins with the first click

By Kevin E. Foley

Here we are five years later from our modest yet surprising online genesis. Quite a ride so far. In 1,725 days, we have generated 6,552 posted news items all about our local community. If you read them all (as we did) then you know things about Philipstown (and Beacon) in a way others do not. Stay with us — we’re really just getting started. Gordon Stewart, our founder, would want that stated early on.

You can search the site for hours and find we have always tried to be accurate, fair and open to diverse voices. We make no claim for perfection (what would perfection look like?) but rather an ongoing effort at honest if flawed judgment about how to portray the daily life of where we live.

And don’t forget the 4,527 comments readers have posted over the five years. They are a popular feature — more appreciated, if less exciting, since we started reading them for tone before posting. Our early experiment in anonymous posting proved that abstract concepts about freedom of expression and the potential for helpful revelations faltered amid the raucous tide of personal invective that anonymity seems to stimulate.

The comments we most wish we could post are the ones we hear in the street or in private emails wherein people prefer to avoid becoming publicly associated with an otherwise passionately held view, which often involves admiration for what we do.

Fundraising idea: For a $100 tax-deductible donation, readers receive a collection of the comment posts we have rejected. You can discover just how stupid, ugly, radical, naive, misguided many of your fellow citizens really are, and I don’t mean the writers. Just kidding, not about the fundraising, but this particular idea. Often, to their credit, angry posters thank us for the restraint — sometimes it’s the morning after.

Along the way, we did manage to spark an awkward polarity; energy suddenly reflowed in an unexpected direction.

Words written about a half-decade digital journey, yet they are on printed paper! (Not of course if you are reading on the website). Five years ago we were on the web giving our town the first taste of what the deep digital well could offer to drink. Halfway through we decided (OK, Gordon decided) we also needed to be in print. Real competition required, the man said, a physical embodiment of what we were doing in the cloud — he gladly acknowledged the cloud eluded him as a concept.

One moment we are discussing varied digital platforms for launching content and then the next we are backing the car up to the loading platform at the printing plant.

Is there another town in America where a local digital news operation moved content onto an ink-stained press? I hope not. We like the uniqueness of it as well as the melancholy humor attached to the memory of our arguments about it.

We did fall a little behind the ever-bending digital curve along the way. Getting a paper out regularly can become a numbing distraction if you don’t pinch yourself occasionally. Important to note that The Paper re-shaped the local media landscape in a huge and, people tell us, positive way thanks to Gordon’s insistence and willingness to fund it. Disruption is not an exclusively digital domain.

Don’t forget you can experience reading The Paper (present and past editions) digitally by clicking on that version in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.

Phone power

Nobody knew it would happen, but phones became, and are still becoming, the most important device for all content. Tablets, laptops and desktops all have a place, but phones rule, for now. Our next website upgrade, coming soon I hope, will display and navigate better on phones. Sitting at my desktop worrying about desktop bias.

Facebook and Google have become dominant planets among many others in a new, still expanding mobile universe. If they don’t have it today, they will buy it tomorrow.

We move a lot of print copies at the Foodtown exit doorway. But Mark Zuckerberg plays with us (and our readers) like a mythical god hurling upgrade and privacy lighting bolts. His world, his rules, his readers, although people would not characterize themselves this way — that is where we find readers most often. And if not on our Facebook page then on the expanding number of local Facebook pages where small groups can feel comfortable among voices that echo their own, while Mark introduces his latest advertising ploy to all.

We are living through a transformative age that has just begun. Someday soon we will wear eyeglasses or earphones or nose plugs or inserts under our skin connecting us (our brains, heartbeats, blood pressure and dreams) to a central data home base (Google?) that will send us endless streams of feedback and information (and commands?). Our cars will will drive and wash themselves, just like cats. I will leave robots for another day except to say they will never replace editors.

Amid this tumult we believe local content — timely, interesting, honest, local content — has a future anchoring thinking to a sense of place, as a portal for ideas helping the community evolve and, through journalistic judgment, maintaining a sense of proportion about what needs doing and what can wait. We also think we can play our part in preserving democracy, our nationally shared value, which technology (or those who control it) seems to sometimes threaten when not promoting it.

Please let us know what you think. And consider supporting financially what Gordon started. Our current website version has a great new donate button. Click, click.

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