Arnie.041014

A front page article in last week’s Local about the latest CHCA board meeting contained comments by board members Richard Snowden and Elizabeth Bales that have awakened a silent majority in Chestnut Hill and nearby communities that is no longer silent. As this is being written, we have received more than 40 letters from area residents about the incendiary comments as well as countless phone calls and comments from the friends of staff members. Nothing the Local has published has provoked anything close to this response for many years.

At the board meeting, members of the Budget and Finance Committee were discussing whether to approve a new budget for the Local that contains an allocation for new investment. According to the article, Snowden, the biggest owner of commercial properties in Chestnut Hill, said that the content of the Local was “primarily negative.”

“Our local newspaper is a failure,” he stated. “I am not going to vote in favor of what is a content rat hole.”

Bales added, “The ad revenue is not forthcoming because the content doesn’t reflect what advertisers want to see.”

As a result, instead of approving a budget for the Local, the meeting adjourned with a “continuing resolution” that will allow the Local to continue operating at current budget levels for three months while a subcommittee works to assess the strategic future of the Local and report back to the board.

Ironically, near the end of the article about the postponed budget was another article about the Local staff winning four Keystone Press Awards for excellence from the Pennsylvania News Media Association among all weekly newspapers in the state with a circulation between 5,000 and 9,999. Two of the honors were first-place awards – for best feature article and best series. Last year the Local won three such awards, and the paper has won numerous other journalism awards in recent years.

The comment by Snowden that the paper’s coverage has been “primarily negative” is stupefying in its Alice-in-Wonderland approach to reality. Last week’s issue contained 27 articles, and the only segment that could remotely be considered “negative” by any rational person were the comments by Snowden and Bales. We do run a weekly crime report (it was one column wide and five inches long last week), but these are one-paragraph blurbs from the 14th Police District with no photos, headlines or editorial embellishment.

If anything, some readers have said that much of the Local’s coverage is “fluffy,” full of praise for local teenagers, nonprofits, schools, sports teams, community organizations, businesses, etc. We are anxious to hear from Snowden and Bales as to specific examples of “negative” coverage because we have not been able to find any.

As for the allegation by Bales that the Local’s “content doesn’t reflect what advertisers want to see,” we would like to know what advertisers she is referring to and what it is that they want to see. We do articles about new businesses in the community and other stories when businesses make news. But the CHCA’s own bylaws state clearly that the Local must be an independent journalistic entity run according to the same principles that govern the nation’s most esteemed news organizations. As several readers pointed out in this week’s letters, we are not a public relations firm or a newsletter whose only purpose is to promote the organization that owns it.

As for the argument that advertising and circulation have declined, welcome to 2014! There is probably no newspaper in the country, large or small, about which the same thing cannot be said. There was an invention 25 years ago called the Internet that accelerated this decline, which began with the widespread availability of radio about a century ago and continued with the arrival of movies and television.

Just 10 or 15 years ago, if you took a train to center city, you would see several passengers reading a newspaper. Now you might see none. Instead, you see those same passengers looking into a tiny screen, sending text messages, etc. Just 10 or 15 years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a daily circulation of about 400,000. Now it is half of that or less.

The Philadelphia Weekly and City Paper were each well over 100 pages on average – now they average about 40. The Patch online news operation has laid off hundreds of employees; Newsworks, Channel 12’s online newspaper, has scaled way back; Life on the Hill, our area’s small monthly magazine, recently ceased operations, and on and on. By comparison, the Local has fared reasonably well, and we believe there is still a place for a community newspaper that reports hyper-local news that you cannot find on the Internet about local kids’ sports teams, local unsung heroes, etc.

But it is difficult to maintain staff morale when vocal representatives of the organization that owns this newspaper insist we are producing a “content rat hole” and that the paper should be a “mouthpiece” for the owners.

We have not had a raise in years, and the organization’s contribution to our 401-K accounts also ended years ago. Even so, we keep showing up for work and trying our best to put out a newspaper that we and the rest of the community can be proud of.

We believe we are doing that.

The Editorial Staff

  • supercrazyworld

    It’s amazing how those shitheads still haven’t changed. The board proves that just because you have money, doesn’t mean you have brains. The Chestnut Hill Board of Directors was never smart enough to diversify the Local. They looked smugly at it as a rag, and treated it like a step child they could condemn and spit on. The Local always had talent, brains and balls – it was capable of so much more. They could have hired someone to help it branch out into other areas, instead they hired a guard dog to watch people come and go, and tally up who made what on whom. The board was too busy talking shit on everyone else to focus on conjuring up ways solve problems, let alone get all those idiots attached to bank accounts to work together. As for Snowden, i’m sure he could be in jail if someone looked in the right direction, the wealthy are just as capable of committing crimes these days as the poor, if not more so. Shouldn’t listen to the bad advice of corruption, doesn’t do the truth any favors.

  • Stephanie Chomentowski

    There are many on the Board who admire and support what the Local does. Excellent job this week in helping to show that this group is the one that is supported by the readership and membership. I, for one, will continue to speak out and vote against what I do not believe in. To all members, please vote in this year’s election – ballots have to be in by April 24 – to ensure that strong directors are elected to the Board.

  • Mike

    This was a bit of an over-defensive column (for understandably self-serving reasons), but ironically the explanation of why circulation and ad revenue is down for the Local basically argues the case that the newspaper shouldn’t be in circulation at all. The solution: move it online…the entire operation. I know its not as glamorous, but it’s not enough to just say that the business is tough for everyone and thus we should continue to fund the paper at a loss…think forward a bit and adapt and this website could thrive, or at least pay for itself with far lower operating costs than it does to physically print a paper – I really enjoy most of the content (not all – those Harris columns are awful) and visit this website several times a week to check in on what’s going on with our neighborhood and neighbors. Snowden notwithstanding, the Local is a very valuable local resource that we should be (and, largely are) proud of, and it would be a shame to lose it outright because of failure to adapt to the reality of today’s economics and habits.

  • charper51

    Glad to see you received such support!

  • CH Karl

    I see Bales is up for reelection. Maybe time to vote her off her post on CHCA…

  • Dan

    Let’s not forget where this all comes from. While I couldn’t find any of this in the archives of The Local, back in 2006 Snowden tried to “reposition [sic] our Chestnut Hill real estate portfolio to reflect the leadership and support of the
    community’s various organizations.” These are his words, not mine. You can read
    all about it on the Inquires website at http://articles.philly.com/2006-10-23/news/25418112_1_signs-chestnut-hill-community-association-angry-mob. We woke up one more to see signs on all of Richard’s vacant offering the space to nail salons, check cashing venues or dollar stores.

    Let’s put aside for a minute the fact that Snowmen’s 2006 actions were tinged with what could easily be described as an air of racism, and reacquaint ourselves as to where all this is coming from. Snowden has had a gripe with the paper and its editor since 2001, when the local published a three-part series on Snowden and his business. As recently as 2006, Snowden wanted apology, printed on the newspaper’s front page, above the fold, with specific language. He also wants the newspaper to agree not to write about him, his family or his business dealings.
    Such request are not only against everything that a free and open press stands for, but are symptomatic of megalomania. It would appear as though Mr. Snowden has skin as thin as tissue paper, and still hasn’t gotten over what he seems to believe is a slight towards him.

    If the reports of your wealth are to be believed, you are a man of great means. You don’t struggle or want for a thing. People of this community work hard, struggle to raise their family, pay their bills and keep the neighborhood thriving. The Local has long been a fabric of this community. If you want to do something
    constructive for the neighborhood, finish that house you are building on
    the corner of Germantown and Gravers and do something about that lot where Magarity Ford used to be. Rember promises for the Fresh Market a few years ago?

    Chestnut Hill is a community full of options, people can open business here and thrive. We saw it when Weavers Way moved to Chestnut Hill and we are seeing it again with the fabulous work that is being done at the Market at the Fareway and the addion of Al Paris and Chip Roamn’s fabulous restruants on the hill. These are examples of how great things can happen when people merger their own self-interest with what is in the community’s best interest.

    This is not about the paper. This is not about a budget. This is not about declining ad revenue. These are the actions of a man who has had his tissue thin skin bruised and is now in his twelfth year of trying enact some personal vendetta he has against The Local. Richard, don’t you think it’s time to maybe get over it? I am sure you have much better things to do with your time and your money.