For the first time in nine years, the New Haven Independent took a vacation.
The Independent — a nonprofit New Haven online news source — did not publish content for the last two weeks of August, then resumed normal coverage following Labor Day. Editor-in-Chief Paul Bass ’82 said the break was motivated by a combination of staff turnover and desire to have “time to think,” about the direction of the paper. Bass said losing two crucial staff members led him to consider taking two weeks to “recharge” before the new reporters joined the staff. This break heralds a change in the direction of Independent coverage as the team begins to transition to more in-depth pieces alongside breaking news.
“People act like walking off the 24/7 web treadmill for two seconds would make the whole world collapse,” Bass said. “When you think of all the serious things that happen in New Haven and things going on in the world, stepping off the 24/7 web treadmill for two seconds is not that important.”
This summer, two long-term staff members of the Independent — Managing Editor Melissa Bailey ’04 and staff reporter Thomas MacMillan–departed from the paper: Bailey is taking a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and MacMillan is relocating to New York.
During the weeks of staff change, Bass said the Independent continued to publish for the first two weeks before taking a break. The first new reporter started working on Sept. 2, and the Independent is considering a finalist for the second position.
“This [break] definitely helps us live longer,” Bass said. “We are a small staff and you have to stay sane to do it right, but I am feeling very positive coming off this break and about the future of the site,” he added.
Bass noted that in anticipation of the hiatus, he checked with all of the Independent’s major donors and received their full support.
Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University, wrote in an email that although it is unusual for news organizations to temporarily shut down, with small operations, it is often the only way to allow for vacation time. He added that with MacMillan and Bailey leaving, Bass was the only full-time employee at the paper before the new staff arrived.
Still, Kennedy said that while having a gap in publishing may turn away regular readers, the Independent is a special case.
“Paul had built up a reputation with his audience over nine years,” he said. “I don’t think taking two weeks off at the end of the summer will break that bond.”
Director of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03 concurred with Kennedy’s sentimen. He said in an email that it is unrealistic to expect small publications to have the regular schedule of a larger paper such as The New York Times. He added that the Independent’s “exceptionally loyal” fanbase will not be deterred by the paper’s temporary recess.
Still, nearly 60 percent of readers polled in a survey conducted on the Independent website said “no” when asked whether newspapers should ever take two week breaks. Rather than finding this concerning, Bass said it means the people care about their product and took it as a vote of confidence in their work.
This break will ease the paper’s transition to reporting more in-depth pieces, a shift which has been ongoing for a few years, Bass said. While it will remain highly committed to covering breaking news, Bass said the Independent will focus more on analytical pieces in the future.
“[The Independent’s] audience depends on it more for analysis and perspective than it does for breaking news, though it does that, too,” Kennedy added.
Still, Bass noted that this is not the first time he has put his computer down and his pad away. Religiously observant, Bass does not personally report during shabbat on Friday nights or during Jewish holidays. He added while the Independent will most likely not take two weeks off again, he will probably allow for one week breaks for the staff and himself in future years.
However, Bass could not help but publish one story during his break. When a fire broke out in a historic building down his street on Aug. 25, he said he found himself at the front of the scene interviewing firefighters.
“My neighbor says, ‘I don’t care if you are on break. You are reporting. Get your camera,’” Bass recalled.
The New Haven Independent is produced in conjunction with the Online Journalism Project.