The Wizzard of New Hope

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Bucks Life - Published, Local-Sustainable Living | Comments Off on The Wizzard of New Hope

The Wizzard of New Hope

Originally published, July 20, 2012 on BUCKS LIFE

Local reporting is nearly nonexistent these days. Though, “personal reporting,” as I like to call it—Facebook status updates, Tweeting and the like—is running rampant. The most interesting of it borders on mundane, and yet the majority of us are completely absorbed.

The Facebook page titled “New Hope PA,” however, is drawing lots of attention—well over 10,000 “likes” and counting—while saying something worthwhile and filling a growing void in the process. Charlie Sahner, the page’s founder and administrator, is consistently engaging large chunks of his audience in zoning debates, news of local store and restaurant successes and failures and even real-time reports, like when the Friday night-fireworks were halted after a couple rounds in early July.

Sahner founded the page in 2009 as an “outlet for citizen journalism,” a forum where anyone with Sahner’s liberal permission could share news and opinion without advertising or editorial constraints on space or perspective. The page’s emergence and rapid ascent coincides with the steady crumbling of the region’s conventional media. The Intelligencer and The Trenton Times downsized, The New Hope Gazette is now published strictly online as a fraction of its former self and The Beacon is down to a single editor who’s shared with another newspaper.

Which begs the question: Is social media the final frontier for local news? Sahner acknowledges his page’s most obvious limitations. “The posts,” for one, “are short, descriptive and visual,” he says. The coverage follows the interest, so it’s not necessarily continuous or comprehensive. And the analysis is raw feedback furnished by users, not journalists who have command of all the facts, or even one fact.

Sahner is a natural newshound, but he is not a journalist by trade. He doggedly follows topics relevant to New Hope and writes feature-length articles for both The Gazette and the blog,, but neither truly complements the “New Hope PA” Facebook page. “I can’t do the in-depth reporting I want to do,” he says. “You can’t live on what papers pay for the time that would take.”

Sahner’s also keenly aware of undermining Facebook’s entertainment value. “There has to be a balance of posts,” he says. “If I always covered New Hope Borough politics, it wouldn’t play well.” In part because many of his followers live outside of New Hope. They’re hunting for nostalgic photos and news on upcoming events, not, say, the weekly police blotter, which Sahner no longer posts because the response was swift and firm: “People hated it. People don’t want to see who got a DUI.”

What Sahner does especially well is pick his spots, and he hones that ability every day as he sifts through the hundreds of comments interjected by his followers. On one occasion, he reported that a woman was illegally selling puppies on the streets of New Hope. Within an hour of the post, she was found and cited with the help of his readers. And, when Hurricane Irene swept through the region last summer, Sahner’s page proved to be a vital resource, with constant updates on road closings, rising river levels and evacuations. It even helped resolve the mystery that surrounded Lambertville’s flash flood. Eyewitnesses posted their accounts and eventually pieced together the story.

Sahner’s “New Hope PA” is far from ideal, but it may be as close as any publication or network gets to it for the foreseeable future. As a truly collaborative endeavor, yes, it’s limited, but it’s also noble. Everyone’s invested, everything’s transparent and no one’s profiting, especially not the guy running it.