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Note: The Monitor puts out an annual “Impact Statement” about the past year and I was asked to write something about the Granite Geek column. Here it is:

Granite Geek has been a weekly newspaper column since early in the first Bush administration (not W but H.W.) and while I like to think it has resonated over the decades, it’s hard for me to put numbers on its impact. 

Until Nov. 21, that is.

On that day the Monitor ran a Granite Geek about the state’s attempt to update the broadband that gives information about availability of fast-internet connections around New Hampshire. The map is important because it will be used to decide how money will be spent to bring broadband to un-served homes and businesses but virtually all the data comes from the Internet providers themselves, which makes it suspect. 

New Hampshire’s office of Business and Economic Affairs began asking people in April to run an at-home internet speed test so they could add some real data points to the map. The Nov. 21 column pointed people to the test and asked them to give it a shot.

What happened? In the seven months leading up to that column, the state had registered 664 speed tests at the site hosted by UNH. In the two days after the column ran, 303 more were run, an increase of almost 50%. Since then, with the article having been reprinted in several places, another 210 tests have been registered.

In other words, that one Granite Geek almost doubled participation in program that will help the state improve its internet connectivity. 

This produced the rarest of events: A source – in this case Matt Conserva,  program manager for the Office of Broadband Initiatives – calling up to thank us for running a story! (Usually it’s only the complainers who call.)

More importantly it reinforced the idea that accurate information free of screaming and finger-pointing, in other words, journalism, can affect people’s thinking and their behavior.  It’s good to get a reminded of that, particularly these days.

The column is bolstered by the Monitor’ssupport of my Granite Geek blog (www.granitegeek.org) and its weekly email newsletter. And while most of its information falls under the “gee, that’s interesting” category rather than the “I must take immediate action” category, I think it provides a useful insight into local, state and regional happenings that might be unnoticed. 

Topics like the local company making an autonomous space robot, the way we can blame Massachusetts for daylight saving time (blaming Massachusetts is always popular), details about community power, and the thorny debate over genetically modified chestnut trees – Granite Geek provides  a place for these that don’t fit into standard news columns. I’m glad the Monitor is willing to put them on their front page, which can only boost any effect they might have.

Let’s see if it continues for another four different presidents!

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