A letter to readers regarding attacks against Planet Princeton and the local press

A central pillar of President Trump’s politics has been a sustained assault on the free press. Journalists are not classified as fellow Americans, but rather “The enemy of the people.” The relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences on journalism at all levels, including local news. 

Local journalists such as those at Planet Princeton view our job as a service to you — our community. We live here, and we care deeply about Princeton and Central New Jersey.

We work so you’ll know how elected officials are spending your tax money and what they’re doing in your name.

Journalists talk to people, hunt down documents, and ask questions so you’ll know how school districts, towns, and counties are spending your money.

If the local government wants you to pay more property taxes, we’ll tell you why and how much. If there is illegal dumping at the town’s sewer facility, we’ll uncover it and follow the story. If COVID-19 is in your parent’s nursing home, we’ll let you know what the statistics are and what state government is doing to monitor assisted living facilities.

And if you see a factual error in our reporting, tell us and we will check it out and correct it.

Today, a few of our readers made us aware of attacks against Planet Princeton and the Town Topics on the social media accounts of two Princeton Council members.

In one thread, a resident who has been antagonistic about our reporting for several years and has tried to gaslight us on numerous occasions, who is also the spouse of a former school board member, claims we write positive political stories about secret donors. I want to assure our readers that nothing could be further from the truth.

Planet Princeton is able to report the news because of three main revenue sources — advertising, website/social media consulting, and voluntary subscriptions. Without all of these funding sources, we would not be able to continue reporting. Most news outlets at the local and national level, both for-profit and non-profit, depend on such a combination to keep the lights on, especially since the pandemic hit in March. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Star Ledger, NJ Spotlight, and numerous other national, regional, and local publications are supported by voluntary subscriptions or paywalls. And many local print newspapers that have historically depended on paid subscribers have shifted to promoting online subscriptions. No one revenue source is enough to support news publishers at any level amid all the changes in the news ecosystem and business model.

Voluntary subscribers in no way affect our editorial decisions, and we make that clear in our policies on our voluntary subscriber page. The average subscription is $10 a month. Our largest voluntary subscriptions in the last six months have been four donations of $500 each from former media professionals who live in the Princeton area and want to support our journalism.

We are hardly getting rich from our “for-profit” enterprise. After expenses, I earn less than $50,000 a year. I’ve been sharing a Princeton apartment with others since I began my local news website in order to save money and bootstrap my business. Fortunately, the last few months, I have received grants to help sustain our reporting during the pandemic, as well as offers of assistance from people who want to help strengthen Planet Princeton’s business model.

At times I’ve questioned the wisdom of my decisions and my judgment when I look at my bank account and consider my lifestyle. But at the end of the day, I feel it has all been worth it because I feel local journalism is a calling and I am doing something that makes a difference in my community. Since the pandemic, local news is more relevant than ever but it is also more strapped for resources than ever as local businesses understandably have had to slash advertising budgets. Many journalists have been working more than 60 or 70 hours a week to keep their communities informed. In late April, I had COVID-19. I was lucky. I did not become severely ill and was able to keep working, though not at the same pace as usual. Over and over the thought kept crossing my mind once I realized I was sick — if I have to be hospitalized, who will report the news?

In these difficult times for all media outlets, our colleagues at the Town Topics have also been under attack for a new editorial policy that does not allow for personal attacks against candidates for elected office. Sentences in letters that are considered personal attacks are edited out. The local primary election has become ugly and contentious behind the scenes. A small group wants to control the outcome of local elections, and candidates are angry that they cannot execute their letter strategy to target their opponent. One council member even suggested that residents should boycott businesses that advertise with the Topics because of the new editorial policy.

We stand by the Town Topics for making its editorial decision. As our society becomes more divided, the local press can promote civil dialogue. Also, letters should focus on policy, not personal attacks or criticism of candidates as individuals. We now moderate comments on our own website before allowing them to be published because of the lack of civility, false information, and personal attacks sometimes found in comments.

Furthermore, let’s face it — letters in support of candidates for elected office are often a farce. Many letters are not written by individuals who want to support a campaign. Rather, campaigns often orchestrate and coordinate letters as a means to generate free publicity about candidates. The letters are often written or edited by a campaign organizer and then a resident is simply asked to sign the letter. Sometimes candidates try to schedule letters so that a certain number appears in a print publication each week or on a news website each day.

Politicians and elected officials of all affiliations will continue to try to undermine and control a free press It is vital that we not allow them, or anyone else, to sever the relationship between residents and the press, especially now, when local news matters more than ever.

Journalists are not the “enemy of the people” and none of us are getting rich reporting.

We are members of your community, and we are working hard to serve you in spite of difficult circumstances.


  1. I am sorry that there are people that attack the press. I support your work and stand by you.

  2. You are inspiring & brave. Thank you for your service to Princeton & Central NJ.

  3. Planet Princeton is an extremely valuable community asset: its reporting has been consistently scrupulous, energetic, and performed without fear or favor. Many thanks for such admirable work.

  4. I disagree. The people of Princeton should be able to have a discussion about how information is shared and edited without being lumped in with politicians and others who wish to distroy the press. I hope you’re not saying that TT and Planet Princeton are above cronstruive criticism.

    1. Thank you for commenting, George. Planet Princeton has a transparent policy on comments and letters to the editor that anyone can read on our website. We welcome feedback and constructive criticism. The comments we are referring to that triggered this letter were not meant in a constructive spirit and were not factually accurate.

  5. Excellent!

    Keep doing the hard and essential work that we, your readers, rely on.

  6. You bring sunshine to the debate and discussion. You are civil, eloquent and focused. Thank you for your transparency. You are providing an immense service that some find uncomfortable. Soldier on.

  7. There are many, many people aside from Donald Trump, who feel the mainstream media has done a great disservice to the country via constant, disrespectful attacks on the president, a complete intolerance for any opinion that does not follow the progressive talk track, and constantly fanning the flames of hate. If some members of the press feel like they are under attack, maybe it’s because they do such a poor job serving the entire public. And now the “free press” is the victim? Lol.

    1. Donald Trump has too conveniently become both a shield and a sword by, in this case, the press. To fend off a criticism, instead of debating the merits thereof, the press would simply assert that Trump shares it and, therefore, the criticism must be wrong. Likewise, to take down an opposing position, the press would say that Trump holds the same position, even if only generally or vaguely, or even tangentially. Who do you think created “the orange man is bad” syndrome in our country?

  8. You are amazing and cover a ton of ground, especially now that you cover the Governors daily briefing. Thanks for all you do for the community. And for being fearless in calling it like it is.

  9. Great work and great response. Thanks for standing up!! I know it isn’t easy but it is critically important.

  10. It’s because of false reporting that happens far to often. Especially within the liberal main stream media. Covington Catholic is a very good example.

  11. The business model for journalism is changing . . . painfully for many/most. Inevitably it’s up to readers who value a free press (who may or may not always tell the story from the perspective we’d like) to support the journalism that they/we want to support.

    Btw, who are the two council members?

  12. Planet Princeton is a source of important, unbiased news and stories that other outlets often fail to cover. You ask tough questions and don’t pander to status or power. I admire your commitment to fact-based reporting and your pluck. Keep it up. Our town needs you.

  13. Sorry to hear this. Very troubling. You have grit and determination. And you carry on sacrificially, without the praise and thanks you richly deserve.

    Long live local journalism!

    Nil carborundum!

  14. I have, for a long time, been troubled by the practice of TT to include candidate support letters as part of that paper’s “mailbag” section. If I were the TT, I would either simply disallow such a letter, or create a separate section called “political support”, limit it to the first x number of letters received, and be done with it. I don’t read these letters since I do not think they add anything to the discourse or tell me anything about what residents of the municipality think about what is going on here. So I fully support your effort to put a lid on some of these types of communications within PP.

    As for the work you do, I thank you immensely. It’s important and it is clear you work very hard.

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