Reflections on the Plattsburgh cool

For the last few weeks, I’ve been starting a new life in Plattsburgh.

I get the honor of continuing the kind of reporting my colleague Sarah Harris did as former Champlain Valley Correspondent. So I’m the one-man show we’re now referring to as the Plattsburgh & Champlain Valley News Bureau. It’s been an invigorating challenge, and as I wrap up my first official week on the job, I’d like to share a first impression or two.


A small crowd watches a series of short independent films at 30 City in Plattsburgh on Friday, September 5th. According to Jason Torrance (right), this event is not necessarily “hip.”

Technically, I’m not new to the region. I lived in the Champlain Valley, in Burlington, for almost five years before coming to NCPR (four years as an undergrad at UVM, and then for less than a year post-graduation). However, as anyone in any North Country town will readily inform you, Burlington is nothing like New York’s North Country. This is absolutely true. That’s partly why I was stationed in Canton for the past year – to get the feel for place. During that time I reported from our main offices, and also from Potsdam, Ogdensburg, Morristown, Wanakena, Gouverneur, Saranac Lake, and other towns.

Plattsburgh is a different ballgame. It’s an urban scene, but unlike Watertown, Glens Falls, or Burlington, the attitude is totally unique.

Of course I’m generalizing, and I can’t totally put my finger on it yet. Part of this different ballgame is that among my own age group (the twenty- and thirty-somethings), there’s an unusual, offbeat cultural scene. Young grownups here are making music, films, paintings, and other art forms that intentionally subvert the mainstream. But people, as far as I can tell, are not really participating in the larger trend of “hipsterdom” – or “hipsterism,” as my recent acquaintance Jason Torrance says.

Jason is an adjunct English lecturer at SUNY Plattsburgh and a filmmaker. He’s one of the organizers for Plattsburgh’s upcoming Lake Champlain International Film Festival, which has received submissions of indie flicks from Japan, Canada, Poland, Austria, Australia, and Germany. During an interview about that festival, I asked, “Is Plattsburgh hip?” His response:

“…Plattsburgh is a very earnest place… I hate the term ‘hipster,’ even though me and most of my friends could probably be classified as them. But the thing about Plattsburgh is, you can indulge in hispterism. You can find things hip around here. But what we have over hipsters in other locales, is we can still be earnest about things – and forthright, and romantic, and expressionistic about things, and not fall prey to that kind of hipster irony of not finding joy in anything. We may have twenty- and thirty-somethings with big crazy beards, but they’re also passionate people who are, once again to use that term, earnest.”

From what I can tell so far, that is an accurate assessment. The artistic people I’ve met have have been welcoming, warm, and unpretentious. To be sure, they are cool – but also nonjudgmental, open to nuance, and genuinely psyched that NCPR now has a full-time Plattsburgh-based reporter. I think I can work with that enthusiasm.

Hilariously, Jason adds,

“We got a pretty wonderful parfait of honesty and hipness, I guess. So grab a spoon.”

Grab a spoon!

Listen to Jason talking about Plattsburgh “hipness” here.

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5 Comments on “Reflections on the Plattsburgh cool”

  1. Kent Gregson says:

    Earnest is a good description of hip, that is of course if you’re getting it from a hip person. The more one tries to be hip, the less hip one is. So being hip is besides wanting to be hip. It is simply being that is described by someone else as being hip. Myself, I’m a bit too analytical to feel hip.

  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    I think Zach is cool and earnest. I think it is wildly hip that NCPR now has Zach full-time in Plattsburgh. It has been a decades-long station goal to provide on-the-ground coverage of Plattsburgh and the Champlain Valley. Stay tuned for details about “ribbon-cutting” events coming this fall. Big thanks to MountainLake PBS for providing office space for Zach, to business and community leaders who have welcomed us, and to all of our long-time listeners and friends in town. In return for your welcome and encouragement, you get Zach Hirsch–a talented and dedicated journalist. Plus, he’s charming and fun.

  3. Larry Dolan says:

    Grab a spoon! JT nailed it and Zach found exactly what is special about the ‘burgh. It has an allure that is hard to leave behind. I guess you either love it or leave it.

  4. oa says:

    Welcome, Zach. It will be nice for NCPR to have a presence in Plattsburgh.

  5. Zach Hirsch says:

    Thanks all 🙂 It’s been really great so far.

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