Philipstown dot info launched during community celebration
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Sunday, July 4, 2010, brought blistering hot temperatures and throngs to Cold Spring for Philipstown’s observance of Independence Day — a celebration with kids’ decorated bicycles, a traditional parade, music, vendors with enticing kiosks, burgers and other picnic food, old-fashioned fireworks — and something new and unexpected.
When the Fourth dawned, Philipstown had one local news outlet, a 144-year-old print weekly headquartered on Cold Spring’s Main Street. By midday, it had two: Philipstown dot info (as its name then appeared) threw open its doors and unveiled a daily website dedicated to providing news of and about Philipstown to residents, visitors and the outside world, offering up a blend of public affairs coverage and reporting on lifestyle, arts and culture.
In a greeting to readers, Founder-Publisher Gordon Stewart described Philipstown dot info’s mission as simply “to live up to our name. We hope you’ll find what you want to know about things great and small in our wonderful town, whenever you need to know.”
Providing “what you want to know … whenever you need to know” involved the labors of my two colleagues, Michael Mell, website master and editor, and Joe Dizney, the living/lifestyle section editor, and me as news editor. At that point, we three comprised the entire editorial staff. Somehow, on Day 1, everything began falling into place.
Readers discovering Philipstown dot info on the Internet that first day, or seeing it on the screen at our office, found a range of articles already waiting for them: an in-depth backgrounder on Philipstown’s already contentious rezoning debate; a short news article pointing to upcoming public hearings on two then-burgeoning controversies — parking for businesses on Main Street and composting toilets; an alert about water-meter monitoring; news of the Beacon Institute, a shortlist of “selected events and activities for the holiday weekend happening in and around Philipstown,” and more.
The website included sections for Letters/Opinions, Videos and Photos, Yellow Pages, Transportation/Transit, and news of People/Passages, Schools, and Living, and the Calendar listed upcoming events from the civic to the leisure-oriented on a daily basis, just as it continues to do half a decade later.
Late on the Fourth, or shortly afterward, Philipstown dot info posted a 5-minute 39-second holiday retrospective, showing scenes from the first moments of the parade to the grand finale of the fireworks, all produced by our ad hoc videography team. They weren’t the only ones very occupied that day. Michael also took to the streets, soaking up feature-story color and collecting material for an article, posted July 6, on the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, one of the musical groups gracing the Fourth of July stage.
Joe joined Gordon and me part of the day, at 69 Main St., but also spent time writing an article, which ran the following morning, on Pete Seeger’s weekend concert for Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh. “It seems fitting — almost imperative — on our inaugural weekend as a local news and cultural presence to celebrate our neighbor and longtime resident: that nonagenarian Energizer Bunny of social commitment, Pete Seeger,” Joe noted.
Gordon and I held down the fort at 69 Main St., telling anyone who dropped in exactly who we were and what we sought to do with Philipstown dot info. Curiosity, plus the heat outside and the possibility of a drink of cool water, no doubt whetted interest, and propelled at least a few folks through the door and into conversations – mostly with the garrulous Gordon. If they wished, they got a flyer reproducing the website home screen as it appeared that day, bumper stickers and a free Philipstown dot info T-shirt.
Despite these lures, many passersby passed us by. As Dizney recalled this week, Philipstown dot info’s “grand opening” that day “was auspiciously commonplace, in a way, but I do believe we were aware of being in it for the long haul.”
Indeed, beyond our front door, interest soon grew. Stories appearing on July 4 generated immediate comments from residents, a trend that only increased as the summer and our efforts progressed. As readership increased and the richness of the untapped news material became more and apparent — within days of July 4 — our staff grew with the addition of Alison Rooney as arts and culture editor and Mike Turton as editor-at-large. (Joe Dizney, meanwhile, began decreasing his role in order to return to his many other interests, which include food. He now continues his connection through his “Small, Good Things” cooking columns.)
By the end of our first month, among other major articles, we had written about a Haldane Central School District reorganization, the Philipstown Town Board’s exploration of fire department consolidation, the shelving of plans for a large family-oriented trailer-park housing subdivision just over the Putnam-Dutchess line but within the Haldane boundaries; serious pipe and pressure problems in the Cold Spring water system; village parking and traffic concerns; plans for upgrading the West Point Foundry Preserve; and redevelopment of the Butterfield Hospital property, as well as about an intriguing new exhibit at the Putnam History Museum and assistance to a local parrot-owner trying to find her missing bird (a story with a happy ending).
Obviously, from the controversial to the cultural, many topics we covered that first summer continue to generate front-page, hot-item stories. On to another five years!