The Acton Exchange Debuts Redesigned Website

April 12, 2024
Side-by-side comparison of the first week of April content in the old blog-style website and the new newspaper-style website.
Side-by-side comparison of the first week of April content in the old blog-style website and the new newspaper-style website. Graphic: Kim Kastens

On April 9, 2024, the Acton Exchange Team unveiled a redesigned website, with a more attractive layout, more flexible navigation scheme, and capacity for new content types. The URL remains the same as before:

The home page of the new site functions like the front page of a traditional newspaper, featuring approximately eight recent stories that the Editorial Team considers to be important and interesting. The inaugural home page includes reporting on local government, a local environmental gathering, and a local artist. A similar mixture of news types is expected on future home pages. The intent is that new articles and an updated home page will be published weekly.  

As of today, there are 198 articles and informational pages in the Acton Exchange database.  The redesigned site offers flexible options for finding the news or information of most immediate interest to you. Use the upper menu bar, above the masthead, for questions or tasks related to the Acton Exchange as an organization: review our policies, meet our team, send us questions, donate, subscribe, and so on. 

Use the lower (blue) menu bar, below the masthead, to find out about what’s been happening in Acton. All of our News articles are categorized as Government, Community and/or Business, and you can access those subsets of articles via the News item on the blue menu bar. In addition, many articles fall into People, Schools & Education, Sports & Recreation, or Environment categories, and you can access the related articles via links from the blue menu bar. If you are fond of the reverse chronological listing of every article as you experienced with the old website, you can achieve that same display by selecting “View all” under “News.”   

If you click through to a specific article and find it interesting, you can find related articles by clicking on the author’s name, on one of the category labels above the article headline, on a “tag” at bottom of  the article, or on one of the “Related Posts” displayed to the right of the article. The Category pull-down menu, in the right-hand column of every page, offers another pathway to find articles in your area of interest. For example, within Arts & Culture, you can access articles that are specifically about History, Performing Arts, and so on.  

The redesign was a huge effort for the volunteer team, requiring deep thinking about what we wanted the Acton Exchange to look like and accomplish, interspersed amid hundreds of hours of categorizing articles, backfilling photographs, remediating orphan URLs, and so on. Acton resident and Acton Exchange volunteer Jeff Vandegrift served as Project Lead for the effort. 

Acton-based designer David Gerratt of donated consultation and web design. When asked to reflect on the project, Gerratt wrote: “As a thirty-plus-year resident of Acton, I was thrilled with the idea of a community-run publication. As a designer to the nonprofit community, I see my job as providing a visual framework to help motivate readers to engage with the material my clients produce. It is also my job to create a dynamic and intuitive system that allows readers the opportunity to create their own pathway through the material — to identify and easily navigate through the content that is of particular interest to them. Equally important, we needed to build a structure that could be easily maintained, since the work going forward will be executed by local volunteers. With the help and guidance of my programmer, Michael Snow, I believe we’ve succeeded with these goals. I look forward to watching the publication grow and serve the community. It’s been a treat to be part of the team.”

The new design supports the Acton Exchange team’s ambitious vision for additional content types. The first new content type is Obituaries, which can be found under the “People” menu in the blue navigation bar. Our first Obit memorialized Hongxiang (Harry) Chen, the founding principal of the Acton Chinese Language School. The primary source of our obituaries is the Acton Funeral Home, which forwards us obituaries shared with them, whether or not the family used the services of the funeral home.

The Acton Exchange is pleased to announce that we will be publishing Letters to the Exchange beginning next week. We are now accepting incoming letters. Visit our Letters Policy page to find out how to submit and what is acceptable. To reach the Letters page, click Letters on the blue menu bar. Future plans include Sports coverage and a Community Calendar. In the meantime, click on Calendar to find links to a number of useful town and school calendars. 

The current local news initiative began when a working group from the League of Women Voters Acton-Area chapter (LWV-AA), dismayed by the lack of a local newspaper, began researching the decline of local journalism and brainstorming how that decline might be reversed in Acton. After many months of effort, the League convened a community forum followed by a “get down to business” meeting. Out of these efforts emerged a volunteer group of writers, editors, technologists, and community organizers. Calling ourselves the Acton Local News Initiative, we began publishing local news through the Acton/Maynard edition of the Action Unlimited in May of 2023.  

On November 1, 2023, the group launched our own website, The Acton Exchange. Vandegrift commented on how monumental that first website was in the evolution of the local news initiative: “For me, as project lead for the redesign, the miracle was that we had not one, but two website designers over the past year. We started out with a clean, robust, single column look, created and maintained by Acton resident Tom Beals. Tom was also the author of our very first article.  That site served us well for many months while David Gerratt helped us figure out what the site ultimately needed to become. And voila, here we are!” Over 150 news articles were published on that original website, while the Editorial Team developed processes and policies for reporting, editing, and recruiting and coaching volunteer writers.   

Mary Ann Ashton, who led the LWV-AA’s working group on a local newspaper for Acton, reflected on how far the effort has come and why it matters: “Having a vibrant independent source for news is important for a town such as Acton which uses a town meeting form of democracy. Local news sources are necessary to ensure that residents are informed about issues in their community and can engage in the process. As a member of the League of Women Voters-Acton Area, I am so pleased to see the Acton Exchange emerge as that vibrant local news source. The group involved with the Acton Exchange has made so much happen with volunteers and homegrown expertise. I look forward to seeing how it can grow and sustain itself and become a vital part of the Acton community.”

Kim Kastens is a volunteer writer and editor for the Acton Exchange, and is on the Board of Directors.  She worked on categorizing and navigation for the website redesign.

UPDATE: An interview about the redesigned Acton Exchange website aired on ActonTV’s program Acton in Focus, on April 9, and is available for streaming on demand. Host Vivian Kobusingye Birchall interviewed Editor-in-Chief Franny Osman, Associate Editor Kim Kastens, and Board President MaryHelen Gunn-Lawrence.


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