Over the long Fourth of July weekend, the family took an entertaining trip to the small Indiana town of Hawkins. Hawkins is very much like Germantown; it boasts a hardworking populace, a brave and dedicated police department, curious and smart youth, and a rather large Department of Energy installation. Among the differences between Harkins and Germantown is the rift in time and space, the penchant for the supernatural happenings, one extremely gifted young girl. And, one very glaring difference is that Hawkins has what appears to be a very healthy and robust newspaper.
Of course, Hawkins is purely fictional. It is the setting for the Netflix blockbuster series Stranger Things. My family and I binge-watched the entire series over the long weekend. And in a world of alternate realities, meddling kids foiling supernatural evil, Mind Flaying monsters, secret Russian bases under the shopping mall, and government mind control experiments — the most unbelievable thing in the entire Stranger Things universe was a local small-town newspaper with a full-time editorial staff of seven men and two interns. That was too fanciful to be believed, even in 1983.
Of course, Stranger Things is a science-fiction fantasy series. The real economic realities of the news business in the 1980s were a bit more strained, and the real-time, real-life economic realities of the news business in 2019 are even harsher.
Sadly, after five years of publishing, the Germantown Pulse will have to drastically cut back on the production of new content to its website officially on July 31. This move is the result of a combination of new opportunities which have presented themselves in recent months and the inability to sufficiently monetize the content of the Pulse. Loyal readers will have noted a decrease in news and content on the site in recent weeks as production ramped down. The site will remain reachable on the Internet, but few, if any, new articles will be published.
On July 24, 2014, Germantown Pulse published its first post, a one-paragraph item about the Board of Education meeting to be held on Monday, July 28, it read:
“The Montgomery County Board of Education will meet on Monday, July 28, 2014, at the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. The meeting will begin at 4:30 pm, with public agenda items beginning at 6:00 pm. The public portion of the meeting will be broadcast live on the MCPS website and on MCPS TV.”
It turns out that five years later, the Montgomery County Board of Education will meet on Monday, July 29, 2019, at the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. The meeting will begin at 3:00 pm, with public agenda items beginning at 4:30 pm. The public portion of the meeting will be broadcast live on the MCPS website and MCPS TV.
Some things never really change.
It greatly pains me to take this step and stop producing the Germantown Pulse. The last five years have been nothing short of amazing. I have met and befriended so many neighbors and community leaders through my work on the Pulse. I began the Pulse with a vision of building a community. I hoped to bring Germantown’s neighborhoods together as a virtual town square where residents could gather to learn about and discuss important topics, to encourage and highlight residents making a difference in our corner of the world, to cheer on and enjoy local high school athletes making their communities proud on and off the field, to share the joy in learning of local folks doing amazing things on the regional and national stage.
For the past five years, the Germantown Pulse been my life. I have attempted to plug myself into everything that makes up Germantown — the good, the great, and the ugly. I started in late July 2014, with nothing. The first week that Germantown Pulse website was “live,” a total of 181 people visited. The first full month of August 2014, a total of 1,723 people visited. Five years later and about 3,200 articles later, in June 2019, to a total 35,747 unique visitors came to www.germantownpulse.net.
Over five years, more than 1 million visitors found Germantown Pulse to read about our neighbors and friends. I am proud of the fact that Germantown Pulse appealed to so many people. I worked hard to earn the trust of the community so that readers would know that if it was posted on the Germantown Pulse, it was news that was vetted and verified.
When I started this endeavor, I said I would give it one year and see how it went. It showed enough promise to keep me going for four more years. The audience continued to grow, and the news kept coming. When I started in the summer of 2014, I said I would attempt to post one story each weekday; by January 2015, I was posting 15 or 20 stories, or more per week.
The Pulse covered many memorable and a few unforgettable stories over its five-year existence: The on-going ordeal of the Katherine Hoggle tragedy. The double-murder of two high school seniors on the eve of their graduation. The tragic tale of Valentino Pritchett. The horrific accident which took the lives of three Clarksburg students. The Kitchen House Way shooting which left one-dead and leads to a two-county crime spree until the killer was captured, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The murder-suicide at a Germantown Road gas station. The Clarksburg hero, Mike Winnfel, who was gunned down attempting the help a woman during the Westfield Montgomery Mall shooting in 2016. The horrific seven-car pile-up at Middlebrook Road and Great Seneca Highway. The Blizzard of 2016 that crippled Germantown dropping 36-inches of snow. And the ground-breaking for the construction of the new Seneca Valley High School 2.0.
Germantown Pulse tried to bring readers closer to their neighbors with features about local people. Such as, Andre Smith, a Seneca Valley football player, who spent a few years in the NFL and returned to become a police officer patrolling the streets he grew up on; or Jim Gregory who ran in this year’s Boston Marathon. The Pulse also profiled local professionals such as, Tori Huster, who plays for the Washington Spirit and splits time between Germantown and Australia as the soccer season shifts; and Addy Barrett, the young girl working to safe Silverback Gorillas; and the afternoon drive-time DJ, DC-101's Greg Roche, who rocks the suburbs. The Pulse told residents about Seneca Valley’s student-athletes giving back to the community through the ACE Project.
The Pulse brought weekly news about local sports, covering Seneca Valley, Northwest, and Clarksburg high school sports every week. The Pulse was there for Seneca Valley boys Basketball team’s memorable runs to the Maryland State Semi-Final games in both 2016 and 2017; the final Seneca Valley football game at the old stadium in 2016; the Northwest football team’s back-to-back State Championship runs. The Pulse cheered the grit and determination of the Clarksburg Coyotes team staying #ClarksburgStrong and playing for their fallen teammates; the magical weekend in May of 2017 when both the Northwest baseball and softball teams won Maryland State titles; and all four straight Northwest girls’ volleyball state titles.
As an independent news source, the Pulse doesn’t have the backing of a large corporation. As a result, there was nothing to fall back on. There was no plan B, and no B-team, no days off, news breaks 24/7/365 and there is always something to be covered in a town of more than 100,000 residents.
While the bulk of the work was done by myself, I could have never accomplished the success of building the brand to attract a monthly average of 35,000 visitors to the website without the work of some dedicated volunteers. Thanks to Mark Poetker and Kim Grimes for stepping up and allowing me to take advantage of their generosity and time to use their great photos of high school sports. Thanks to Billy Owens for some great coverage of high schools this last year. Thank you to the many folks who have submitted photos over the five years. Thanks to Pete Piringer at Montgomery County Fire Rescue for showing me and the world how to get the right information to the right people in a timely manner. Thanks to the public information office at Montgomery County Police for always being supportive.
Most of all, thanks to my family and friends for their support. Thanks to my friends on the Ad Hoc Editorial Board for being honest with your opinions and generous with your time when I had a crazy idea or needed a second opinion.
Thanks to my kids for putting up with me always being in the office, and for allowing me to take a detour on the way to soccer practice to take a photo of a fire or a collision, and sometimes writing tweets and Facebook posts while I drove. From taking video at high school sports events to staying quiet in the car while I conducted an interview or sold an ad via Bluetooth, you guys have always understood what I was trying to do, the unique requirements of my 70 hour work weeks.
Most of all thanks to my wife, who has always supported the crazy idea that one man might be able to provide news for a community of 130,000 people, spread out over 35 square miles and maybe, someday, make money at it. Thank you for putting up with the hours away from home while covering sporting events and meetings, the hours that I spent in the office writing and editing stories and photos, or tweaking the website. Thank you for putting up with the interruptions of movie nights and family dinners, (and one anniversary dinner) to cover breaking news such as shootings or fires in town. Thank you for sacrificing Friday nights as a family from August through March, while I covered high school football and basketball. Thanks for calming the crazy mood swings of one man trying to be publisher, reporter, photographer, web designer, social media coordinator, IT manager, marketing manager, and executive editor all at the same time, while keeping one eye on his phone waiting for an alert about the next being story — NONE of this would have happened without your unwavering love and support. Thank you for being the rock on which Germantown Pulse was built.
Finally, thank you to the folks who made producing Germantown Pulse a labor of love — thank you to the readers. Thank you to the folks who would send emails and messages of encouragement, or photos and story ideas, or tips about breaking news. Thank you to the thousands who would regularly comment on social media. I read every comment. EVERY COMMENT. A huge thanks to the Members, those readers who so supported the idea of independent local news in Germantown that they donated their hard-earned money to Germantown Pulse to provide much needed financial support. Those members went the extra mile, and their efforts were very much appreciated. Thanks to all those who shared Germantown Pulse stories and told their neighbors about the Pulse and helped grow the brand.
Alas, all good things come to an end. The site will remain up and searchable, but it will not be updated with new content nearly as much, or ever. The Germantown Pulse social media accounts will continue to be active pointing followers to important stories from the few media outlets providing news and information to UpCounty residents.
And if you haven’t already, check out Stranger Things on Netflix, which is where the town of Hawkins is located, because much like Germantown, it is really a great place to live and it seems the impossible can happen in both places. For in Germantown, one man’s dream of being the editor of a newspaper came true. Clearly, miracles do happen in Germantown, so there is some hope that the Germantown Pulse will beat again someday.