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Longtime Amherst journalist Nick Grabbe says goodbye with a few parting opinions

I am retiring this week after 32 years of working on newspapers in Amherst, 19 as editor of the Bulletin and the last 13 as a writer for the Bulletin and the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

When I became the Bulletin editor in 1980, Jimmy Carter was president, and there were four weekly newspapers based in Amherst: the Record, the News, the Bulletin and the Valley Advocate. By 1985 the Bulletin was the only one left in Amherst, and in the late 1980s it grew in size, popularity and influence. In 1991 the Bulletin merged its editorial content with the Gazette and in 1999 I stepped down as editor.

I have always seen my newspaper work as community service. I have lived in Amherst since 1984 and have tried to understand its politics, clubs, churches and businesses so that readers could understand them better. For all its eccentricities, I came to love Amherst, and plan to continue living here. For me, working at the Bulletin and Gazette has never been a stepping-stone to a more glamorous or highly paid job.

There have been enormous changes in the way people get information in the last 32 years. In 1980, some reporters still used typewriters, and if you wanted to comment on a local issue, writing a letter to the paper was just about your only option. Now, the number of information sources has exploded and virtually anyone can claim to be a journalist.

Digital transmission of information makes it available more quickly and inexpensively and it reaches more people. I hope that the watchwords of newspapers — accuracy, fairness, balance — will survive this media revolution. If we get all our local news from TV and from websites and blogs that don’t adhere to these standards, we will all be poorer for it.

I have always tried to avoid forming strong opinions on political issues, because that would get in the way of my ability to write about them fairly and completely. But as I retire, there are a few thoughts I’d like to express:

* Decisions about development should be made with the interests of the entire town in mind, and neighbors shouldn’t have veto power over what happens on land that they don’t own.

* If Amherst resists business development but has high municipal salaries and low teacher-student ratios, the result will be increasing taxes or diminished services or both.

* The University of Massachusetts is a net plus for Amherst. A small number of rowdy students are part of the bargain, and the key to peaceful coexistence with residents is a joint effort involving campus and town officials, the police, neighbors and students.

* Amherst residents who see Hadley as Hicksville or purely a shopping district should pay closer attention to it. Hadley has excellent schools and roads while keeping taxes much lower than Amherst, and Route 9 is only a tiny segment of the town.

I have been privileged to interact with many dedicated public officials, from longtime Town Manager Barry Del Castilho to the current superintendent of schools, Maria Geryk. I have tried to get to know them and earn their trust without becoming their mouthpieces or shying away from news that could be embarrassing to them. Reporters and public officials shouldn’t be friends, but they shouldn’t be adversaries, either.

I have also been fortunate to meet many people who have shared their passions with me so that I could share them with readers. I want to thank them all for having confidence that I would present their ideas and activities responsibly. Amherst is home to many interesting people, and they have all broadened my perspective.

I do not expect to get involved in the town’s politics in the future. I plan to become a volunteer at the Survival Center and a poll worker on election days, and in the spring I will create a large vegetable garden near Amethyst Brook. A recent retiree told me that the things she thought she’d want to do in retirement weren’t the same as what she later found she really wanted to do. So I’m going to keep my options open.

I want to thank all Amherst residents for reading the stories I’ve written over the years. When I started my newspaper work 43 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I would wind up in such a wonderful place.

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