How Melanie Plenda and Carol Robidoux came together to expand news in Nashua

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Listen to the full episode above by pressing play. An edited-down transcript of the broadcast is below.


On this episode of Granite Beat, hosts Julie Hart and Adam Drapcho talk with Melanie Plenda, executive director of the Granite State News Collaborative, and Carol Robidoux, founder and editor of Manchester Ink Link and Nashua Ink Link, New Hampshire’s newest outlet, created with the help of the collaborative.


This article has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Adam Draphco:
So who had the big idea to start Nashua Ink Link, and when did that conversation begin?

Melanie Plenda
Plenda

Melanie Plenda:
I talk a lot with local editors, and I talked with people just out in the community — funders and things like that. Over time, people kept coming to me, knowing we’re tied into the local news ecosystem, for lack of a better word. People would ask, “What’s going on in Nashua? What’s happening in Nashua?” There just wasn’t the amount of coverage that we would normally see for the second-largest city in a state and the second-most diverse city in the state. So the more people kind of shared their concerns about that, the more we started trying to work together to figure out how to fix it and what we could do about it.

We ended up getting a little bit of funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and we got a team of our local partners and editors together to talk it through. Every one of our editors has a different audience that they serve. They each can contribute a part and eventually, after months of discussion, we kind of landed on what’s really needed: bread-and-butter everyday coverage. Carol and I got together with Anthony Payton at Nashua Digital, because he had similar ideas to bring more news to Nashua.

We figured out what it would take to have a reporter dedicated to Nashua, and then we figured out how we could kind of share that reporter. We have Mya Blanchard, who’s been doing just outstanding. She’s working directly with Carol. What’s great is that all the content that Mya produces for Nashua we share with the other partners.

It was months of work and talking and figuring it out. But I really do think we have the start of something kind of amazing where the people in Nashua can get the coverage they need and deserve, frankly.

Carol
Robidoux

Carol Robidoux:
I never really had any grand plan, and that’s my secret to success. I just kind of go with the flow of life and see where it takes me. But in this case, just prior to starting (Manchester Ink Link), I was working in Nashua for Nashua Patch as the OG editor. I was part of that launch here in New Hampshire when Patch came along in 2011. After I got laid off from Patch, I really thought about doing a Nashua version of what I’m doing in Manchester, because I had such great connections there. And because I knew the turf, and I knew so much about the community.

When we were talking about Nashua, I just kind of blurted it out that it might be something I could do, because I already did it in Manchester. To me, it’s kind of a simple model really, just to create something. Gone are the days when a news outlet had three city reporters and a team of sportswriters and a Sunday news section with five reporters who are spending five weeks writing about dog grooming or whatever they do. Those days are over. We don’t have the luxury of personnel or time to create a complete news package for people tied up in a bow that’s delivered to their doorstep. It just doesn’t happen, and I don’t understand exactly how we got so lost. We’re just trying to kind of find a way back into meeting the needs of a community with digital delivery, with community voices that are not always polished and completely professionally journalistic, but that have clout.

As Melanie mentioned, we have Mya Blanchard, who’s kind of a homegrown Nashua reporter. She went to high school there, went to college and graduated from Rivier. She wants to learn the ropes of municipal reporting, which is wonderful, because we don’t see young people engage in that way so much. And ask any seasoned reporter if they’d like to sit through a two-hour meeting on bond issues. They’re going to run screaming in the other direction. We’re trying to get back to basics on that, just provide some basic info for the community, and find ways to connect and see what works and see what resonates.

Julie Hart:
Did you have to overcome any challenges when you were launching Nashua Ink link?

Carol Robidoux:
One is geographical. I am not there. Although it’s a quick 20-minute drive right down the turnpike, I miss just being able to walk out my door and take a deep breath and say, “Here I am Nashua. What’s going on today?” But that’s where Mya comes in. She’s made some great connections so far, and is basically doing what every good reporter needs to do, which is get to know who the players are, the people, the movers, the shakers, the young people, the people that are tried and true. And, it’s challenging to learn, what are the current most pressing issues?

As far as challenges go, I mean, we had to build a website from scratch. I have an amazing web developer who works for me, and she did a great job capturing Nashua. So it’s mostly been just fun and positive. And the end came together really fast.

Julie Hart:
What advice would each of you have for someone who’s interested in starting their career in journalism?

Screenshot 2024 04 06 at 10.23.55 PM
Front page of nashuainklink.com

Melanie Plenda:
I would say the best advice for anyone who is looking to get started in journalism is to start at your local paper because you will end up with the experience that you need — all the basics. You will be able to learn all the hands-on sort of interview techniques and learn research techniques — all of that. But the most important thing is that you can walk down the street and talk to 10 different people and come up with 10 different stories and feel connected to those stories because you will know those people and you’ll feel what they’re experiencing. Even if you go to some national newspaper, you won’t forget that that is important. You’ll bring it with you to every story you do. So I think that starting at a local newspaper, and hopefully staying there forever because you love it, is really the best thing you could do for your career.

Carol Robidoux:
What young people need to do is understand that if they feel a passion for journalism — and I think it’s hard to explain that to anybody that doesn’t, but for those of us right now talking on this podcast, you understand what that means. When you read something, and it makes you twitch a little because you know that’s not quite right, like there’s more to this story and you have to get the rest of the story. Or you see something tangibly happening, and you want to tell people what you saw, reporting on something to your community, I think that’s a talent and a skill set. It’s an innate gift in some ways that, if you have that in you, then you need to find a way to nurture that.

Even if you’re not a journalism major, dig in and find out a little bit more about journalism, ethics and the difference between unbiased reporting or balanced reporting. We’re a world of strong opinions now, and it’s hard to know — we have deep fakes, we have fake news, there’s so many things out there that could be a detraction from becoming a journalist. But know that journalism means we are storytellers. We tell the stories of our community — we tell the stories of our time. When we watch a history program, that’s all based on accounts of history that were chronicled likely by journalists and historians.

So it’s important to learn how to tell stories, how to get the facts straight, how to check the facts, and then, just as Melanie said, find a local news source that you appreciate or trust — ask for some advice. Don’t give up if you have a passion for it. Find a way to create something. That’s kind of what I had to do with the Ink Link. I had to create something because I was tired of getting laid off. I thought, “I can make something myself, I can never lose my job again.” There’s a lot of people doing podcasting with little niche media companies and figuring out what that looks like in multimedia.

I don’t know what the future holds. But it’s important for people to appreciate how journalism really tells the stories of every community, and 100 years from now, hopefully, some of our stories from today will still be informing our towns and cities, for better or for worse.

Julie Hart:
How can people access Nashua Ink Link and Manchester Ink Link?

Carol Robidoux:
Go into your phone or computer and type in “Manchester Ink Link” — you might get a tattoo parlor first if you do the “Ink Link” alone. So just typing in “Manchester Ink Link” or “Nashua Ink Link” it should pop right up. It’s easy to find us. I think we have pretty good SEO, so it should be easy.

Julie Hart:
And the Granite State News Collaborative?

Melanie Plenda:
You can find our work and our partners’ work. Our partners actually distribute our stories that we produce with freelancers. We also help partners share each other’s stories. So anywhere you see the little boilerplate at the end that says the story is being shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative, that’s one of ours. You can also go to collaborativenh.org and see all of our work and learn more about us.

Adam Drapcho:
Thank you so much, Carol and Melanie. It’s been really inspirational.


GSNC 2 ColorThis article is part of The Granite Beat, a project of The Laconia Daily Sun and the Granite State News Collaborative, of which Laconia is a partner. Each week, Adam Drapcho and Julie Hart will explore with local reporters how they got some of the most impactful stories in our state and why they matter. This project is being shared with partners in the Granite State News Collaborative.


 

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About this Author

Adam Drapcho & Julie Hart

Adam Drapcho and Julie Hart produce The Granite Beat podcast for the Laconia Sun.