Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 36
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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Weather Forecast


Nearly 450,000 Views Posted and Counting: “Planet Princeton” Is a Local Phenomenon

Ellen Gilbert

During the uncertain hours (and even minutes) that the Princeton community experienced before, during, and after hurricane Irene, there were two mainstays that people knew they could rely on. The Princeton Public Library proved once again that it is “Princeton’s living room” by remaining open late into the evening in the days immediately after the storm to accommodate the many residents who lost power. (Princeton High School student George Quinn captured this effort on a YouTube video called “Plug in and Power Up.”)

The second mainstay was an almost 24/7 source of shared, up-to-the-minute information, common sense, good humor, and comfort. This was Planet Princeton, the online hub created by veteran journalist and Borough resident Krystal Knapp.

Appreciation for Planet Princeton, which has been up since 2010, extends well beyond the Princeton community. Even before the storm tested its mettle, no less than the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) had only good things to say about the site that can be accessed via Facebook, Twitter, or simply by using the URL planetprinceton.com.

“Readers don’t come to Planet Princeton for photos of furry animals at the County Fair petting zoo,” wrote Leah Binkowitz in the CJR article. “Knapp tends toward policy and planning stories: development of the downtown hospital site, a push to consolidate the Township and the Borough, and transit changes. Planet Princeton may be a work of love, but Knapp’s pieces do not read like love letters of a local blogger.”

Even if her posts don’t “read like love letters,” Ms. Knapp admits to an abiding love for the Princeton community, with its connected populace, wealth of cultural events, and proximity to New York and Philadelphia.

Ms. Knapp was characteristically modest in a recent Planet Princeton posting written in response to the kudos she is still receiving from Princeton residents (and some non-residents), businesses, and government officials for her coverage of Irene. “Could not have done it without the many readers who crowd-sourced info and various officials, in particular the West Windsor Police,” she wrote. Planet Princeton received some 450,000 posted views on Facebook for the week of August 27 through September 2. “People provided helpful tips, corrections, and new information constantly,” said Ms. Knapp in a recent interview. “Also nothing beats good old fashioned knocking on doors and calling. Some officials were very helpful; others not so much.”

Challenge Things

At Smith College Ms. Knapp majored in German literature. A year abroad in Hamburg sparked an interest in the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. That and her curiosity about religion in general led her to the Princeton Theological Seminary with thoughts of eventually becoming a minister or chaplain. Wanting a “place where you could ask a lot of questions and challenge things,” prompted her take to courses in journalism at The College of New Jersey and the Poynter Institute. A stint at the Trenton Times, where she continues as a freelance writer, followed. Since Princeton Planet is, as yet, without advertising, freelancing and work for an oncology journal help to pay the rent. Training for and participating in Anchor House’s annual bicycling fundraiser keep her fit.

Ms. Knapp reports that one of the best parts of her job is “connecting with people from all sorts of backgrounds,” though as a seasoned journalist she also admits to her love of “working on the computer and digging for information on the web or in a database.” Being the “public records and computer assisted reporting journalist” at The Trenton Times, she said, helped her to learn how to cover events like Irene. Her experiences included reporting on 9-11 and the subsequent anthrax scare, as well as natural disasters like floods and tornados. “Dispelling rumors,” she said, is another important impetus for writing.

“Even in these uncertain times for journalism I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything else in the world,” said Ms. Knapp. “I get to meet interesting people, learn new things all the time, and do things I never would have done otherwise. The response to the hurricane coverage on Planet Princeton affirms for me that what journalists do has value.”

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