Reasons behind decision to retire 'Rye Reflections'

Citizen-journalism monthly closing shop after five-plus years

Jack Driscoll

Rye Reflections announced in its August issue that it is discontinuing the publication with this edition. No, we didn't run out of money. Never had any. Never needed any, except to register our name..

So why close up shop and why now? The reasons are many and boil down to:


So, yes, we are discontinuing monthly issues with this September one, but Rye Reflections and its archive will continue to be available online at the same address, www.ryereflections.org, for research purposes and as a model for other community publications.

HOW WE STARTED

Rye Reflections was an offshoot of several other youth and adult online publications in the U.S. and abroad (Finland, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Thailand, etc.) that resulted from research at the MIT Media Lab. The most notable were the Melrose (Mass.) Mirror and the the Junior Journal.


Beecher eagle now in Portsmouth's Public Library, from Front Page, July 2008. (Jim Cerny photo)
The Melrose Mirror is still publishing monthly, having begun in 1996 in the city of about 30,000. The Junior Journal grew out of the week-long 1998 Junior Summit, attended by 91 youth leaders from around the world, at the MIT Media Lab. A group of the attendees decided to publish a monthly "voice of youth" and built a publication that lasted seven years and included more than 300 participants between ages 10 and 18 from 91 countries. The Journal ran as many as 60 stories in some editions. The editors all grew up and went to college, spelling the end for the Junior Journal, even though it had developed a network of writers. (The startups of the Melrose Mirror, Junior Journal and Rye Reflections became the focus of a tutorial book I wrote: Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Online Community Journalism.)

EARLY GOING

In Rye we spent several weeks organizing and planning the first edition in June, 2005. If you check out the June Front Page, you will notice a different, wider format. The edition featured nine stories, including a book chapter excerpt with a scene on Rye Beach from A Hole in the Universe, a novel by nationally recognized novelist Mary McGarry Morris, who has spent summers in Rye for many years.

We had five members at our first organizing meeting in March, 2005, but that number doubled when we started publishing and ran between 10 and 15 from then on (we kept minutes of every meeting).

CHANGE IN FORMAT

A bump in the road occurred in December of 2005 when the independence of Rye Reflections was questioned. Earlier in the year I had arranged a meeting with the Rye Public Library to request a weekly meeting place for a citizens' publication. Shortly thereafter I became a member of Rye Senior SERVE and thought the publication could be an offshoot of that non-profit service organization. SERVE agreed.


Blaisdells handed Memorial Day Program in Front Page photo of June, 2006. (Judy Underwood photo).
For several months it technically was part of SERVE when the question was raised. Rather than having an appearance of a conflict, the group voted to send a letter to SERVE severing its connection. I also resigned my position on SERVE. In the process the person who had been handling the technical aspects of publishing resigned. We got by the next issue with me stumbling through the process. Then we sent out a call for help, and Catherine Stone, a web developer from Portsmouth not only responded but has stood by us on a volunteer basis to this day, helping solve technical issues and prompting several innovations while juggling her own professional duties.

With her guidance we unveiled a more narrow, modern layout in our February, 2006 issue. Among other refinements she also steered us into (1) use of RSS feeds, (2) a formula enabling readers to email a story they have just read by clicking on an icon at the bottom of the story, (3) an automatic email notification of those readers who requested a reminder each month when we publish and (4) a Google search of the entire five years of archives of our publication that appears at the bottom of the Front Page and at the end of each story.

PERSONNEL

Marion and Bob Dunn began attending meetings in April, 2005, and have been major contributors since. A former stewardess, Marion is best known for her regular recipes, but she also has been an editor and feature writer. Bob, a former ski slope operator and businessman, has done numerous stories, often with his own photos, mostly on skiing, golf and travel, in the U.S. and abroad.

And former automobile dealer Hank McFarland is also an original, attending for the first time in May, 2005. In addition to feature articles McFarland has been a consistent producer of imagined pieces and satires for a regular feature we named, "Wry", which was kicked off in a big way with a full April Fools edition in 2008.

Another long-timer is Al Harper who brought his multiple talents to the group in 2006. A graduate of MIT, Harper had background as an actuary and computer scientist, so he took on the important setup of the Front Page each month while writing a Computer Tutorial and keeping track of readership and other statistics. When Ken Palm joined the group, Harper introduced Ken to the wonderful world of templates and HTML as the two handled the vital behind-scenes chores while Ken also became a regular writer, concentrating a lot of his efforts on profiles and travel articles. His wife, Judy, took photos for some of his articles and was soon writing regularly as well and founding the Calendar Selections column that proved popular.

Ellen Hamil, who formerly was with the CIA, divides her time among Rye, Nevada and New Mexico, but her heart has been in Rye Reflections since her arrival for what she thought would be a vacation in July, 2005. She not only has written several stories but also handles the Letters to the Editor no matter what state she is in.

But even Ellen would agree that our most celebrated staffer was her mother, Polly Morton. Like wow! In her early 90's Polly took a course in writing at a retirement home in Concord. She was a natural: her stories were deftly written with a knack for understatement, a sense of humor that crept into all she wrote and a clear focus, to the point, always leaving her readers hungering for more.


"Polly's Porch" by J.R. Hamil
When she died at age 99, she left us with her own obituary, which aptly was a gentle sharing of her life, entitled "The Gift of Flowers". For those who haven't read it or those who wish to re-read it, you can go to her final essay by clicking here.

We labeled her articles, "Polly's Porch". A painting of her Concord Point home and porch by J.R. Hamil graced our July, 2005, Front Page (J.R. is the brother of Polly's son-in-law).

The year 2007 saw some comings and goings on our staff. Judy Underwood moved to New Mexico in December, meaning the loss of a talented computer whiz, photographer and writer. We have talked her into contributions from New Mexico and her vast travels, so that her moving would not be a total loss to us. In the summer Jim Cerny and Bill Drew, both from New Castle, joined the group primarily as writer-photographers. Their arrival along with Bill Veazey moving to Dover, Jayne de Constant moving to North Hampton, the additions of Ken and Judy Palm from Hampton and Bill Warren from Portsmouth changed our perspective somewhat, in that we had been Rye-centric until then but decided that the Seacoast was a high-interest area for our readership, so we broadened our coverage somewhat.


"Fiji", from September 2008 "Saltines". (Jim Cerny photo)
An example was the addition of Cerny's "New Castle Saltines" a spin-off of "Rye Crisp". "Saltines" chronicled that town's activities in words and magnificent photos. Jim has been a triple threat, more often landing the lead photo slot on the Front Page, writing magazine-quality features, initiating, then handling the 13 "Concord Reflections" columns and lending his computer expertise to the website by fine tuning layouts and creating special effects (such as "Wry") and devising the boxing of photos. Drew, who is nicknamed "Pappou", also brought writing, photography and computer ability to the group and recently began his own blog, called The New Castle Post.

Veazey was our most consistent Opinion writer, taking on local, regional and national issues. Recently we began a column by him called "Veazey's Views".

Norm Walker was the last but not the least to join the staff, beginning with poetry submissions in late 2007, tackling the difficult donor-town issue with several stories and writing Greatest Generation profiles. A former football coach-of-the-year in Massachusetts, Walker wound up his 48-year English teaching/coaching career at Holderness School for 23 years. He is a published poet who has written tutorials on the intricacies of poetry writing in our recent issues.

Another published poet who became a regular contributor the past couple of years is M.E. Tuthill, who lives in Massachusetts but has been a Rye devotee ever since she started coming here summers at an early age.

STORIES OF CONSEQUENCE

A host of major issues percolated in Rye during our five years the tardy construction of the Public Safety Building, numerous attempts to build senior housing, dogs on the beach, the Saunders Restaurant proposal, the Swim & Surf Club. We tried to cover all sides with depth. We reserved our Opinion section for commentary by anyone. Victor Azzi, deposed pro-bono project manager for the Public Safety Building took advantage of the opportunity, writing several hard-hitting, controversial columns. No one chose to rebut him.


May, 2007, Front Page photo shows homes, fish shacks swamped at North Hampton Beach.(Martha Lardent photo)
Major storms gave us an opportunity to showcase the versatility of our staff, particularly the spring flood in 2006, the micro-burst in September of that year and the Northeaster in the spring of 2007, which we presented with three slide shows.

We also looked forward annually to the "Art in Bloom" exhibit. The entries are all winners, so we decided to do special photo coverage depicting each presentation every year, setting the tone with our first chance to cover the event in 2006. The photography of Judy Underwood was combined with a design by Catherine Stone, who fashioned a layout that included sliding the cursor over thumbnails to see the caption, then clicking on the entry to see the blowup. If you click here, you'll get the idea. (When Underwood moved, the Palms handled the photography.)

To the degree possible we tried to present reader-service information such as where to learn about swine flu or our local state representatives' perspectives in "Concord Reflections", written by Reps. David Borden and Will Smith when the House was in session. In only our second issue in July, 2005, Harold Moldoff began a column called "Consumer Alert", which consisted of submissions Moldoff culled from his volunteer position as a Consumer Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Antitrust in Concord. Some of his columns were drawn from state agencies, some from federal. The aim was to provide timely, expert advice on issues that were in the forefront of the news.

In short, we tried to stick with our mission, which was to be an independent "voice" in the greater Seacoast community. And it was fun while it lasted. Thank you.


Favorites through the years


The following are some of the favorite stories of the Rye Reflections staff (to see each story click on headline):

A field guide to the bikers of Rye by Hank McFarland. October, 2005

Reflections on when I was wet behind the ears... by Bob Dunn. October, 2005

Asolo is a true Italian escape by Marion Dunn. August, 2006

Polly's Porch/Durham--The Freshman by Polly Morton. September, 2006

The Linen Man by M.E. Tuthill. August, 2007

Helping hands for the Haley Family by Judy Palm. October, 2007

Portsmouth Fairy House Tour is enchanting by Judy Underwood. October, 2007

Swirl of questions surrounds NH education funding issue by Norm Walker. March, 2008

The Common Lilac by Bill Warrren. June, 2008

New Castle's backyard hosts man and nature by Bill Pappou Drew. July, 2008

Brother, can you spare a dime? by Bill Veazey. December, 2008

Computer Tutorial: Helpful Hints #1 by Al Harper. December, 2008

The Greatest Generation: Clifton and Grace Philbrick by Marg Carroll. March, 2009

Dramatic Saunders ZBA hearing, 5 1/2 hours in 93 degrees by Jack Driscoll. September, 2009

A visit to the summer home of Ogden Nash by Ellen Hamil. October, 2009

Fifty years of footprints in the sand at Hampton Beach by Ken Palm. January, 2010

Juvenile adventures with Seacoast settings by Jim Cerrny. June, 2010

111 years ago The Casino stood alone at Hampton Beach by Jayne de Constant. July, 2010



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September, 2010



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