For the Record
Last week—St. Patrick’s Day, specifically—marked the seventh anniversary of the day Larry Kelley launched his blog, Only in the Republic of Amherst.
Over those seven years, Kelley has become a force to be reckoned with, thanks to his mix of no-holds-barred, often irreverent coverage of Amherst politics (one example: he refers to Select Board chair Stephanie O’Keeffe as “Princess Stephanie”) and his on-the-ground coverage of breaking news, especially fires and police activity (he runs a regular “DUI Dishonor Roll,” and his live-tweeting of the latest Blarney Blowout caught the attention of Boston-area media).
The blog, Kelley recently told the Advocate, averages 60,000 page views per month. In 2013, that number hit 130,000 views in the month of March alone, thanks to his coverage of that year’s Blarney Blowout and its aftermath. This year, his March view counts had already reached 127,000 by St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s no surprise, then, that Kelley is looking to expand his reach. On March 17—which marks not just the anniversary of his blog’s founding, he noted, but also the second anniversary of the date he stopped drinking—Kelley kicked off a $15,000 online fundraising campaign to help him start a digital news outlet called the Amherst Record.
“I’m a glutton for punishment,” Kelley joked about his decision to launch a new media outlet. He decided to kick off his campaign on St. Patrick’s Day, he added, “because I need the luck of the Irish.”
Within two days of launching the fundraising campaign (at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/amherst-record-digital-news), Kelley has raised $1,220. The fundraising campaign ends April 15; if he meets his goal, Kelley expects to begin publishing by the end of that month.
Kelley’s new outlet would revive the name of a long-time weekly newspaper that went out of business in 1984. (He has a personal connection to the old Amherst Record, he added: his father used to advertise the family plumbing business in the newspaper, and when Kelley opened an athletic club in town in the early 1980s, he advertised there, too.)
The $15,000 Kelley hopes to raise, along with paid advertising, would get the paper going and pay him a modest salary. For the foreseeable future, the news site would be a one-man operation, although, he added, “I could probably use a copy editor.” But in the beginning, at least, he would do what he does with his blog: rely on eagle-eyed readers who promptly let him know when they catch a typo or spelling error.
The new site, Kelley said, would address one of the major shortcomings of his blog: “I only have a front page.” People in town, he said, are always asking him to plug smaller events on his site—their kids’ team car wash, say. “I hate to say to somebody, ‘That’s a cute little thing, but unfortunately, it’s not really front-page material, so I can’t use it,’” Kelley explained. A more expansive news site would allow him room to cover a wider range of stories, from brief items to the longer articles he now runs on Only in the Republic of Amherst, as well as arts and entertainment coverage.
Kelley also plans to carry an extensive section of readers’ comments. His blog already gets an enviable number of comments, from fans and critics alike; some posts, he said, will inspire as many as 100 comments—“especially if I’m covering the Amherst schools.”
As with the blog, Kelley would do some moderating of comments on his new site. “It’s always a balance. I’ve been trying to crack down on commentators—language and general nastiness, staying on topic, that kind of thing. But at the same time, I try to encourage discussion. It can get rough and tumble. …
“To me, the First Amendment is rough and tumble,” continued Kelley, who subscribes to the tenet that the answer to “bad” speech isn’t censorship, but more speech.
In a liberal enclave like Amherst, Kelley is often tagged with the label “conservative.” Certainly, he has a low tolerance for the politically correct vibe in the town. He’s also unapologetically patriotic, fighting, for instance, for Amherst to fly American flags downtown every year on Sept. 11. (The Select Board instead agreed to fly the flags every five years to mark the date,)
But Kelley—who said he’s an unenrolled voter—doesn’t consider himself a conservative. “I’m pragmatic,” he said, which he attributes to years as a small business owner.
And, as a lifelong resident, “I’m just very territorial about Amherst,” he added. He loves his hometown, but sometimes, he said, “I’m guilty of tough love. If the University of Massachusetts … or the Amherst schools, K to 12, is screwing up, I’m all over them.”
Over the years, Kelley has watched the constriction of the local media, with fewer outlets and fewer reporters working for the outlets that remain. “I kind of fill in the gaps,” said Kelley, who minored in journalism as a UMass undergrad and recently got a certificate in online journalism from the university. “If it happens in Amherst, most people know that the person to go to for the back story is Larry Kelley. …
“I have 30 years of experience. I know all of the players. I know where all the bodies are buried,” he said.•