I want to let readers know what we’ve been up to at Planet Princeton, and where we are headed.
First, I want to thank all of our readers for your support since the pandemic began. We have published more than 3,000 posts since March of 2020, many of them related to COVID-19. We’ve been able to connect community members who need help with volunteers, provide information to struggling residents in the greater Mercer County area about where they can get food and toiletries, and help people find COVID-19 testing locations and vaccine appointments.
Much of our energy since January has been focused on helping people locate vaccines and on matching volunteers with area residents who need help making vaccine appointments. In January, we created a spreadsheet listing all of the vaccine appointment locations across the state, with links, phone numbers, and information on whether each location was accepting appointments or not, as well as how to make an appointment. The list was important because, for example, some locations only took appointments via the web, but their phone numbers were listed on the state list. People would spend hours trying to get through when in fact you couldn’t make an appointment by phone or many locations were no longer taking appointments at all. Our Google spreadsheet was accessed tens of thousands of times, first by Princeton area residents and then people all across. Within a month, the spreadsheet was viewed more than half a million times, and was embedded on news websites big and small across the state. A volunteer programmer turned the spreadsheet into a searchable database that anyone could embed on a website. Members of the volunteer programmer team even met with the governor’s office of innovation to advise them on making their own list more user friendly. A group of Princeton University students worked with volunteers to turn the data into an app that is searchable by zip code. A volunteer added a feature that pings all of the pharmacy listings across the state every five minutes. Volunteers, many of them from our area, still verify other information on a regular basis. We are hoping to create a Spanish version of our website and app in the near future.
On the business front, I was fortunate to be accepted into a graduate certificate program for journalism creators at CUNY for the semester. A group of 20 journalists across the globe have been meeting together on Zoom twice a week with our program director and guest instructors. The goal is for each of us to create a new product. At Planet Princeton we are working on creating a new newsletter covering public transportation issues in the state. The newsletter will share commuters’ stories and concerns, will look at potential solutions to transportation issues, will share data in accessible formats, and will include public records reporting. The newsletter will launch in late June or early July. As an added benefit, what I’m learning has also helped me me look at the way I do things on Planet Princeton, and how I can do things differently and become more sustainable. I have not been posting as many stories as usual between managing the vaccine spreadsheet previously and attending the program I’m in, but I feel both have been worth it – the vaccine effort because it saves lives and helps people return to a somewhat normal rhythm, and the journalism entrepreneurship program so that I can learn ways to sustain what I am doing and expand our coverage. I’m also working with colleagues on a few plans we hope will have a positive impact on news coverage in the state. I plan to share more information on those plans in the fall, so stay tuned.
I was vaccinated against COVID-19 in March. I had strong reactions to the vaccine, but after a few weeks the lingering COVID symptoms I have had since last May mostly disappeared. I was glad to be able to finally visit my mother after she was vaccinated. My father died in October. Last week I took my first real vacation since the pandemic began (actually the first one in the past three years), visiting Ocean Grove. I took a needed break from writing, and spent some time before and after on long-term planning for Planet Princeton and the new transit newsletter. I recruited a few new writers who will begin writing for us next month, and also worked on some technical upgrades and features for the Planet Princeton website. We are working on more upgrades in the coming weeks. Some of the highlights so far:
The Planet Princeton events newsletter was put on hold during the pandemic. The newsletter will return in the coming weeks now that more in-person events are being held. There is still an events calendar on our website where you can add your community events, and it is free to add your event. Based on reader feedback, I have created a few ways people who want to receive news by email can receive stories in their inboxes. There are some people who want every single story, obituary, or letter to the editor sent to them as an email when the story is posted. Several hundred readers receive our stories that way now. Some readers want a daily digest of all posts if posts have been published that day. Others want a weekly digest. Others just care about events and want the twice weekly events newsletter. We have been hard at work setting up a mostly automated system so that people can choose the email frequency they prefer, without adding too much work on our end every day. See below to sign up for one or more newsletters.
We finally released an Android version of the new Planet Princeton app. You can get the app in the Google Playstore. An Apple version is awaiting approval by the company and we hope is will be available soon.
We are exploring ways to build community and engage our members more, including a monthly email update for members, and a closed chat group, possibly on the Discord platform. We have a Facebook group that will still be open to everyone.
If you have story ideas, feedback or questions, would like to volunteer for us as a writer or researcher, or would like to work with us as a freelance writer or help local businesses market themselves successfully on Planet Princeton, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading. We hope all our readers have a safe and pleasant summer.