Dear Swellesley Report readers:
More subtly than we probably should, we ask for donations to support our independent journalism venture.
To be clear, we’re a small business, not a non-profit. But we’re no media behemoth. Donations help to cover the cost of everything from web hosting to our newsletter distribution system ($26 per month) to our media insurance (more than $1K per year) to our calendaring software ($200 a year).
Down the road, we’d love to also offer stipends to budding journalists interested in contributing if donors would like to support that specifically. We were lucky to have an intern this summer who sought college credit for her work.
But we’ve heard from a couple of readers lately (and more in the past), that they’ve had trouble donating via the PayPal link we provide. We’d hate to think that people intend to donate, then get stymied by a tech issue on our end.
If you do run into issues, please let us know and describe what happened, and we’ll try to resolve this issue. We’ve created a fresh link and tested it out ourselves this past week and donated to ourselves. That was unsatisfying in the short term, but we hope it will pay off in the long run…
Bob & Deborah
The Wellesley Free Library has put together a new class, “Life-Ready Basics for Teens.” Here’s the description of the sensible, skills-based program we think every teen could benefit from:
At some point in your life, you’re going to be expected to know how to do things that nobody ever really taught you how to do. Nobody can say for sure when that will be, but you don’t want to feel unprepared. Check out a new series of practical skills sessions this fall for teens aged 13 – 17. The first session, “Social Media Etiquette,” will take place after school on Monday, September 23, 3:30pm – 4:30pm in the Arnold Room (second floor) of the main library. Learn some insider tips about privacy online, know how your information on social media can be used, and discuss what you should and probably shouldn’t post to your accounts. Bring you own phones, laptops, or devices to learn hands-on how to adjust your privacy settings. Sign up required. For more information, email the library.
The story we broke last week about Wellesley’s Old Town Road street signs being stolen has now gone viral. News outlets from local TV broadcasters to the New York Times (“Old Town Road is Real, and People Keep Stealing the Street Signs”) to CNN to the Boston Globe have picked up the story.
NECN, the Globe, Boston.com (“There’s an Old Town Road in Wellesley. People keep stealing the street sign.“), Boston Magazine, MassLive (“Lil Nas X’s hit song is leaving one Massachusetts town without its ‘Old Town Road’ street signs”) and the New York Daily News (“People keep stealing the Old Town Road street signs in suburban Boston, officials blame Lil Nas X”) are among those we thank for their journalistic ethics and giving us credit. I reached out a a few of these publications via email or Twitter to thank them. One responded: “It is an easy decision.”
Others (including at least one usual suspect among local news stations) neglected to do so, either willfully claiming the story for their own or being too far removed from the source to bother. Plausible deniability strengthens the longer a story stays viral, too, as the original source can get lost in the miasma and it can legitimately be tough to determine the original source. The reality is that shadier news operations will try to get away without giving credit, something they’d be a lot less likely to pull if the original source was a mainstream news entity.
Signs of trouble
We became aware of street signs being damaged or going missing earlier this summer, and had the fact corroborated by a Wellesley resident whose neighborhood has been particularly hard hit. She shared a photo with us of DPW workers in action, installing a new sign. We reached out to the DPW, Police and Town Hall at the end of July to learn more.
It was more than a week before we heard back from the town in a message on which the DPW was copied. I didn’t think too much of the delay, knowing that it’s peak vacation time and maybe even getting an out-of-office reply or two. Though I also suspected this wasn’t necessarily a story the town would be eager to share, not wanting to encourage any more theft or vandalism. A bit of triage might have been in order. We reached out to a couple of police chiefs in other Massachusetts towns with Old Town Roads: 1 never got back, the other said he knew of no such reports.
(Any sign “borrowers” want to come forward? Message us at [email protected])
When Wellesley did get back to me it supplied great details, including a short list of the more popular targets (including Old Town Road) and specific costs associated with replacing signs. While I’ve talked to a bunch of people since this story broke that haven’t even heard of the Lil Nas X song “Old Town Road,” I was quite familiar with its record-breaking stay atop the Billboard charts (hey, I even saw Lil Nas X perform the song live at Boston Calling in May).
I knew right away this would be a hot story. The combination of a popular song and an opportunity to tweak Wellesley would be too much for other media outlets to resist. What’s more, you can’t roll a wooden hoop through Wellesley without hitting a local TV newscaster or reporter, and those locals love reporting on their town.
I swung by Old Town Road on my way home from work on Aug. 7 to take photos and shoot a short video for Facebook, much to the chagrin of my son, who was with me and hankering for a hamburger Mrs. Swellesley had on the grill (he really started to flip when we made a second pit stop to take a photo of this bike). I then banged out a post when I got home, published it and linked to it on social media platforms.
I took pictures of a few mailboxes or other address markers bearing the words Old Town Road, but decided not to run many of those, hoping not to disrupt residents’ lives too much. Not that the owners of these homes (at least one valued on Zillow at $3.5M) probably need to worry too much about their Wellesley Farms home values being affected one way or the other by this media frenzy.
Playing the viral game
We’ve played the viral story game before, so were ready for what would come. Some past viral posts that come to mind include the Tom Hanks typewriter, Trampoline Man, and David McCullough’s You’re Not Special speech.
So shortly after we published our Old Town Road post on Aug. 7 I rather too snarkily tweeted:
It turned out to be hours rather than minutes, but swarm they did.
Most of the local news outlets did credit us as the source, though at least one oblivious freelance TV reporter didn’t despite me reaching out to her to ask if she would do so (sometimes that works, as CNN and others have agreed to cite us in the past when initially overlooking the original source). The story then spread to some of the TV station affiliates in random places, like Richmond and San Diego, that probably don’t give a darn about Wellesley.
Some of the local news outlets admittedly advanced the story beyond our initial report. They knocked on some doors. They put some town officials on camera. The local news outlets went wild on social media, begging Lil Nas X and collaborator Billy Ray Cyrus for attention, hoping for retweets or likes to help fuel traffic to their websites (don’t think either bit).
On Aug. 9, the town got caught up in the excitement, embraced the publicity, and gushed in a press release that it had become a TV star. That sparked a new wave of stories, and while the town cited us in its press release, most news outlets just started linking to the town website.
Wave after wave
The next wave of story pick-ups came from music and entertainment sites like Vice, Billboard, NME, Stereogum, and Consequence of Sound, all of which did cite us. All of this has helped to double the traffic on our site over the past week, with the biggest spike coming the day after we broke the story in large part due to the first wave of publications citing us.
Following those posts came more on Aug. 12 from mainstream news sites like CNN and the New York Times. People started messaging us links to these stories, some of which linked to other stories 2 or 3 sources down the chain from us.
Entertainment Weekly and People also got in on the act, as have dozens of publications I’d never heard of (e.g., SB Dirty South Soccer). Most of the stories at this point are regurgitating from the early reports. How much more is there to say?
I ended Monday responding to an inquiry from a Time reporter, who wanted to know what this would mean for the town. I shot back a reply, and so the story continues…
While I was sorry to see the Improper Bostonian magazine fold after 28 years — I’d pick it up in order to give my eyes a screen break on the train — I imagine locals won’t be sorry to see the blue plastic boxes go away now that they no longer contain the publication.
It’s now been a month-plus since the magazine’s farewell, and boxes remain on the streets of Wellesley. I also pass by at least 9 of the blue boxes on my sub-mile morning and evening walks in Boston between South Station and my office (though think a few have disappeared over the past week or so).
The boxes always remind me of a college antic that I may or may not have been party to long past the statute of limitations involving the transport of a heavy metal USA Today newspaper box from a Commonwealth Avenue sidewalk to a dorm room…
Who’s in charge of getting rid of such boxes in Wellesley?
It depends on where they are. Those on town property, such as the sidewalk by Marathon Sports on Washington Street in Wellesley Hills, are owned by the town. The one at the Wellesley Hills train station is the MBTA’s concern.
The town used to issue permits for the boxes but hasn’t done so in quite some time, perhaps because there are fewer requests to distribute print publications. The Department of Public Works has picked up defunct ones in the past.
Improper Bostonian publisher Wendy Semonian Eppich got right back to me when I inquired about plans for the boxes, and she asked me if I had any good ideas. I’d be glad to take one off her hands to store stuff in, but Mrs. Swellesley has given that a hard and fast “No.”
Semonian Eppich says: “We have had some interesting requests for them. I just need to take some time to explore them further.”
Got any ideas? Let us know: [email protected]
The Wellesley Youth Commission is excited to announce the 2019 lineup of summer programs. Get an insider view of the Town of Wellesley by experiencing one of the town’s amazing programs.
Wellesley High School (WHS) last year launched the Challenge Success initiative in an effort to broaden the definition of what success means for the Wellesley educational system and community. The program received financial support from the WHS Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO) and Wellesley Education Foundation (WEF). The idea behind the Stanford University-directed collaboration is to make a place in the WHS curriculum to teach resiliency, and explore methods to better engage students both at school and at home. About 130 schools throughout the United States — including those in nearby systems Dover-Sherborn, Acton-Boxborough, Concord-Carlisle, and Medfield — have used Challenge Success.
Challenge Success — from theory to practice
Wellesley HS Principal Jamie Chisum in an email this week updated families on the program and some of the ways it is being put into practice. Here are some excerpts from Chisum’s email:
“As the students will attest, we are continuing to keep our academic rigor and standards high as well as working hard to help our students realize the skills they will need to thrive our ever-changing professional world. This year we have taken greater strides with the Challenge Success program. As many of you know, our theme this year is balance. We are encouraging our students, as well as faculty and community members to reflect on balance in their days, their weeks, and their lives.
“Many of the Challenge Success initiatives are rolled out during advisory as this is intended to be a comfortable environment for your children and assures the school that every student is getting similar messages. This October we did time tracking for a week, we asked your children to put all twenty-four hours of their day in a spreadsheet for a week and after that week we asked our students to reflect on how they actually spend their time. Over the weekend of November 4th we set the clocks back and on that Friday we showed our students a video on the science of sleep and how important it is for their brains to recover while sleeping so that their brains can optimize its abilities.
It’s a balancing act
“Next week we are focusing on the balanced use of technology. Next Tuesday, your children are going to watch a video about how technology is taking up too much time in the lives of Americans in 2018 and that screens are making people less happy. We will discuss the videos in our advisories and it would be great if you could discuss it at home as well.
“Technology can be an addiction. In our community and country some experts are calling it an epidemic. We are hoping to use next week to make a positive impact on our community, and as a model for future weeks, by encouraging less use of technology and spending some time away from screens for more enjoyable, healthy activities.”
There must be more than just trying to get through high school
In the fall we sat down with Chisum to talk about Challenge Success and how it is rolling out at WHS. In the interview, Chisum talked about how he addressed perceptions that with the program the administration was somehow trying to make high school “easier”; building community in the school, especially for incoming first-year students; and the stress level students today operate under.
Chisum says, “We do feel the call to arms because we have a lot of kids who just report that sometimes they just want to survive high school. I don’t remember that being what high school was like for me. The world is challenging but they’re still teenagers, they’re still kids, they’re still forming. We’ve got to support them enough so that they don’t become overwhelmed. So how do we figure out the balance point?”