Arnie.041714

This week we conclude with another set of letters received in response to our April 3 cover story in which the CHCA board voted to delay passage of the Local’s budget until the paper’s marketing and content strategies could receive further review. During that meeting of the board, the Local’s content was described as a rat hole, to which more than 40 people responded in letters printed last week and in this issue. All letters on this subject begin here and continue to page 6 and 7. The letters on page 5 were received in the last week and concern other subjects.

Tripping over our feet

By not approving a budget for the Local at the March meeting, the board of directors of the Chestnut Hill Community Association once again tripped over its own feet and failed to take the necessary steps to strengthen our biggest asset.

The proposed budget gave the Local the ability to reinvest monies that otherwise would be deposited to an already plentiful cash reserve to improve the newspaper and website. The board withheld these funds pending a broader discussion on the content of the Local.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Anytime investment in the Local is proposed, some individuals on the board re-initiate a never-ending debate about the negative tone of the Local. Steps are then taken to appease the seemingly unappeasable, and, a year later, we repeat the process. All the while, the Local puts out an award-winning newspaper with next to no support from its publisher, the CHCA.

The detractors on the board say the Local is negative and adversarial to businesses, yet this contention is never based upon anything more than a select conversation with an unnamed person or two. Some cite the downward trend in newspaper advertising and classifieds as proof that the content of the paper drives away businesses. This theory completely ignores the fact that advertising and classifieds are shrinking in the newspaper industry as a whole.

In fact, the Local has done better than many newspapers of the same size, so much so that the paper turned a profit last year (a profit that the CHCA voted to use to cover our own budgetary shortfall in 2013). I, for one, see local businesses featured in the Local regularly, and short of turning our community newspaper into a weekly shopper’s guide, I do not see what more should be done.

The other accusation that the tone of the paper is too negative is just as groundless. The most distasteful thing I’ve read in the paper in years was last week’s reporting of the comments of my fellow board members carping about the paper’s negativity. You’d have to be a longtime reader to remember the pugnacious letters to the editor from last decade. Was that public bickering tiresome? Perhaps. Was it interesting to read? Maybe. Has it disappeared from the paper over the last five years? Completely.

And in the interim, the Local and its writers have received a number of awards from journalists’ organizations recognizing their strongest articles and writings. Far from applauding these achievements, last week’s meeting on this issue was more about name-calling and score-settling, where some directors derogatorily referred to and denigrated their own paper. See, negativity is there, before it’s even reported in the Local.

But we all have our opinions. We play armchair editor every week when we read our Local. If you like what you read, stick it on the fridge; if you don’t, line the birdcage with it. As readers, our preferences come down to matters of taste.

But for those of us on the board who accepted a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the Local, personal preference is not a good enough reason to punish the paper (and those that work there) by limiting the ability to reinvest in itself and grow.

Mike Chomentowski

Chestnut Hill

CHCA VP of Operations

 

Outpouring of support for Local

I am delighted by the outpouring of support for the Chestnut Hill Local that was displayed in the April 10 edition. The Chestnut Hill Local should be the jewel in the crown of our wonderful neighborhood.

I care so much for this neighborhood that I volunteer my time and energy for the CHCA board and many of its committees. The CHCA board is responsible for the Chestnut Hill Local.

Unfortunately, the advertising and readership for the local has been on a steady decline. This is the concern that was raised at the March CHCA meeting. It is my great hope that we can continue the enthusiasm for the Local that was seen in the April 10 edition. Specifically, that the enthusiasm translates to increased subscriptions and advertisers.

At the end of the day, the Local is a business. Without subscribers and advertisers, we will have no business.

This is something we all must be mindful of in this town that we love. It will not suffice to simply adore your favorite business and spend your dollars elsewhere. We must support each other. That is, and has always been, my intention as a citizen of this community and a member of the CHCA.

For those of you with extra enthusiasm and positivity, I encourage you to come lend your time to our community. Join us at the monthly CHCA meetings and its many committees where our community volunteers donate their time and energy to keep our wonderful institutions, like the Chestnut Hill Local, alive.

Elizabeth Bales

Chestnut Hill

CHCA Board Member

 

‘Utterly outraged’ by those words

I saw those words by Mr. Snowden in today’s Local and felt utterly outraged. It is a very bad sign that a local businessman and entrepreneur of Mr. Snowden’s stature fails to support the local newspaper. Such an attitude can only attest to the kind of shortsighted lack of vision that has plagued our American political and business communities for the last quarter of a century, with results that are only too evident: a decline of literacy, of citizen participation, an impatience for quick results, a materialism that declares that only what costs a lot of money is of value and a lack of the sense of beauty.

This negative appraisal of our business and political leadership in America surely does not describe Mr. Snowden, who has done a lot for Chestnut Hill, but why is he echoing this kind of message?

Chestnut Hill is a wonderful community with beautiful architecture and community design and a tradition of civic leadership. Such a community must indeed have a local paper.

It would be unthinkable not to. The “results” of having a literate community that values its local culture and news are not like Nielsen ratings or stampedes to Walmart on Black Friday. The “results” of the local paper addressing the needs and concerns of the local community are more intimate, subtle and intangible. A steady reading of the Local gets one acquainted with one’s neighbors. It gives one a stake in the outcomes of local decision-making. The Local is a name and a face and a story before it is an ad or a sale.

The Chestnut Hill Local is the human institution that characterizes this community as none other. It takes a lot of devotion to put the paper out every week. Do enough of us really stop to express our appreciation for this? There can be no substitute for a real paper, and digital is inherently undemocratic. The Local provides a venue for local writing talent and showcases local businesses, local ads, local jobs — in short, it fills a need that nothing else can supply. Are cultural and spiritual needs of less importance than the material bottom line?

I hope that Mr. Snowden was just having a bad day, but I really believe he should apologize to the Local for his disparaging words. As an individual of local influence and importance, he is in a position to offer words of encouragement to any venture that help to make Chestnut Hill the unique place that it is. In the long run, that is what will help his bottom line.

Caryl Johnston

Germantown

 

Disheartening

It was disheartening to read in the April 3 Local that the Chestnut Hill Community Association is questioning its commitment to funding the newspaper.

Vibrant communities have vibrant local coverage – good, bad and sometimes even ugly. Other neighborhood news sources have gone dark, to the detriment of their communities. The Chestnut Hill Local is one of the few still doing this work, continuing to publish compelling stories about Local events, schools, sports, businesses and personalities. The four recent Keystone Press Awards are nothing to sniff at!

It’s not just about the content, either. Scores of businesspeople and institutions would have no meaningful way to reach residents of Chestnut Hill and surrounding areas without being able to advertise in the Local.

The news business is changing even as the public’s appetite for information continues to grow. It’s shortsighted to deprive the Local of resources it can use to navigate the transition and keep serving the Chestnut Hill community. We would welcome a community meeting to discuss the importance of the paper in the lives of the residents, businesses and nonprofits in the area.

Lastly, I am impressed by the staff dedication to continue to work having no pay raise in over five years. The community needs the press as the Fourth Estate.

Glenn Bergman

General Manager

Weavers Way Co-op

 

Lucky to have the Local

How time flies! It was in 2005 that I wrote to the then CHCA president protesting the firing of the editor of the Local. I know I’ve written at least one letter in your defense as well. The board periodically delights in threatening the Local’s staff and content, blaming it for its own and the economy’s failings.

And here is Chestnut Hill’s very own Mr. Snowden, once again bad-mouthing the Local. Some readers must remember his posting signs on his many vacant buildings offering them to check cashing businesses. I do like Mr. Tarantino’s proposal that any commercial property vacant for five years should be condemned.

I’ve lived in Chestnut Hill for 19 years. I had dinner at Under The Blue Moon just before the owner retired. Mr. Snowden has apparently been unable to find a tenant in 19 years. How can a company fecklessly claim to recognize what an authentic, functioning newspaper would look like? We are fortunate to have the Local, even though it now seems to avoid investigative journalism.

A suggestion: at board elections, each candidate must state his/her position on the role of the Local. Perhaps that would allow us to choose more useful and enlightened board members.

Julie Reich

Chestnut Hill

 

Board should not control content

As an advertiser and freelance journalist, I don’t agree that the CHCA board should have control over the content of the Chestnut Hill Local. Stories covered, good or bad, are at the discretion of the editor and the journalists pitching relevant topics, not a community board. Yes, the Local should be a mouthpiece for not just the community board but all services, activities, events and issues within the community it covers.

I value our partnership with the Chestnut Hill Local and have for many years. I also find the Local to be a strong community newspaper, which is the reason for our continual advertising. I hope this issue is resolved as soon as possible and has the best interest of the Chestnut Hill Local and its readership involved.

Alexis Abate

Chestnut Hill

 

His comments were the only ‘negative’

I could not believe Richard Snowden’s comments this week. What world is he living in? Obviously not this one. A “rathole”? “Negative”?
I cannot recall reading anything negative in the Local, except his comments, and I have been reading it for at least 10 years. It is full of stories about unsung heroes in the community of all ages doing great things, lots of great pictures of people in the area and other information you could not find on the Internet. In other words, just what a community newspaper is supposed to be.

And, irony of all ironies, a story at the end of that article pointed out that the Local just won four statewide journalism awards for excellence.

Obviously, you need to find some new board members who will bring sanity and common sense to the budget process, not someone who has a personal axe to grind against the newspaper.

Elliot Goldman

Chestnut Hill

 

Unbelievably supportive

Simply put, if someone thinks that the Chestnut Hill Local is a negative newspaper, I wonder from what gates of hell they think the likes of any mainstream media outlet stems? I’m not certain I have never seen anything negative in the Local aside from, perhaps, a losing score from one of our local high school teams?

As a local business owner, the Chestnut Hill Local and its Local Life editor, Len Lear, have done nothing but been unbelievably supportive. I rely on the tremendous team over at the Local to not only keep me up-to-date on what is happening in my local community, but to support that which is celebrated within. I am astounded to learn that someone aims to obliterate that which has served our strong, phenomenal community for so long.

Adina Silberstein

Queenie’s Pets, LLC

Mt. Airy

 

Effective vehicle for area school

We were surprised to learn that the Chestnut Hill Local has been given only provisional budgetary support, while its future is being determined by the board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

As a subscriber and advertiser, The Waldorf School of Philadelphia has enjoyed reading the Local for news about the communities in Northwest Philadelphia, and we have found the Local to be an effective vehicle for getting the word out about our school.

Maureen Gallo, the advertising representative we work with, has been proactive and adept in getting our school into print and in connecting us with community events at which we can contribute something and benefit from the exposure.

While the Local offers great advertising opportunities for area businesses, it serves the even more important function of connecting people to their community with news and information of local interest.

Maintaining a sense of connectedness to people and to place is becoming increasingly important in a world that seems to grow larger and more disconnected every day.

Although some might argue that print journalism is going the way of the dinosaur, we think a neighborhood newspaper is one of the threads that bind people in a community.

We hope that the CHCA thinks carefully about any decision to reduce its support of the Local or to cease its publication. Doing so would deprive Northwest Philadelphia residents and business owners of a critical avenue of communication and connection.

Brenda A. Ridley

Director of Administration

The Waldorf School of Philadelphia

Mt. Airy

 

Perhaps Snowden should try editing

As a regular reader and occasional contributor over the years to the Chestnut Hill Local, and with more than 20 years as a freelance writer and PR professional, I am surprised by the harsh comments made about the Chestnut Hill Local, a paper that is well-regarded and that has been a comforting fixture in the Chestnut Hill community for decades.

I was particularly surprised by the harsh comments made by board member, Richard Snowden, who called the paper a “failure,” adding that he was not going to vote in favor of approving the Local’s annual budget for the coming fiscal year, labeling it a “content rathole.”

How can Snowden reconcile his comment with the recent Keystone Press Awards garnered by Local Life editor Len Lear and associate editor Sue Ann Rybak? (See front page, Chestnut Hill Local, April 3.)

Perhaps Snowden would like to take over the paper for the next issue, assign stories, edit stories and meet the deadline every Monday by 12 noon and then start all over again for the following week, while juggling a million other details that occur daily in the running of a weekly newspaper operation.

As for content, editorial decisions and content issues usually are best left to professionals — the writers and editors. However, Snowden stated that both the “commercial and residential community felt that the content of the paper was primarily negative.”

Rather than relying on the second-hand interpretation of what the community wants to see in the paper from board members who may be biased or have their own agenda, a general open meeting with the community could be convened once or twice a year and a poll taken by the editors of the Local to address any unmet needs of the community regarding what topics they would like to see covered in the Chestnut Hill Local.

As for the concerns expressed by board members about the Local’s significant decline in ad revenue, they need to come out of their bubble and witness newspapers across the country who are also struggling to attract advertising revenue — papers of note like the The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and, yes, The Philadelphia Inquirer. It’s the economy. The dollar is tight for advertisers and consumers across the board.

Again, rather than having the board members’ second-hand interpretation of what advertisers want to see in the Local regarding content and how the Local’s content impacts their decision to advertise, why not have the Local editors meet directly with the advertisers to address whatever the advertisers’ concerns may be.

As any good reporter knows, before you write your story, all facts must be verified, preferably straight from the horse’s mouth.

Sabina Clarke

Chestnut Hill

 

Once again …

Once again, the Chestnut Hill Community owes Richard Snowden thanks. His negative comments have reminded the community that we need to continually reaffirm our devotion to and support for our Chestnut Hill Local.

Barbara A. Bloom

Chestnut Hill

 

Snowden has a ‘personal agenda’?

I was somewhat puzzled to read that Mr. Snowden referred to the Chestnut Hill Local as a “content rat hole.” First, I don’t even know what that means. Sounds like he made something up to sound like a trendy phrase and didn’t quite hit the target.

In my humble opinion, The Chestnut Hill Local is anything but negative. If anything, it tends to be a tad lightweight. But rat hole? I don’t get it.

If you go to www.chestnuthillocal.com you will see a graphic of a well-dressed African American woman speaking and a bespectacled white woman intently listening. The heading at the bottom of the graphic says, “Corbett budget and sale of PGW are topics at town hall meeting.”

The next piece is about a new construction company that bets on artistic sensibilities and technology; the one after that is about area athletes honored for hoops heroics; the one after that is about a film screening, and the one after that is about a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

I have been a freelance writer for the Local for more than five years, having published most of my pieces in the last two years. Whenever I check my pieces online, I end up checking out the Local’s “content,” if you will, and am always impressed at how it represents the community. There is always a good mixture of light-hearted features and stories that focus more on the community. Although, it may not be the New York Times, and no other paper really is, it’s a nice little paper.

Mr. Snowden also mentioned that advertising in the Local didn’t get results and that the residential and business community felt the content was primarily negative.

Sounds like Mr. Snowden’s main concern is advertising revenue and only mentioned the negative content, which is patently untrue, because he has a personal agenda.

Brett S. Harrison

Center City

 

Newspaper, not a house organ

The most troubling aspect of Wesley Ratko’s article about the Chestnut Hill Local’s budget was not Richard Snowden’s characterization of the paper as a “content rat hole,” although, that sure got our attention.

The major issue that was raised, as it has been several times over the paper’s 50-plus year history, is what the relationship between the paper and those it covers is.

Since its early days, the Local has operated under what is known as the Lentz Policy. This policy, which has been in place for decades, really confirms the role of the CHCA-owned Local to be a newspaper, not a house organ. That policy has been affirmed repeatedly over the years, most recently in 2004.

When Snowden intimates that because some advertisers are unhappy with the Local’s content and that therefore we shouldn’t be budgeted until what he says is “negative” about the paper changes, then he and his supporters on the CHCA board are going against everything that journalistic ethics, and the First Amendment, dictate.

From a personal standpoint as someone who has written about a wide variety of subjects for the paper for 34 years and served as its sports editor and as a copy editor, I wonder where the negativity label comes from. In years past, there have been issues that stirred up controversy on a grand scale, but I don’t see that happening now.

Newspapers do not live in our society to please the people they cover. They exist to inform their readers. Publishers have the responsibility to hire the best editor they can find and then to support that person.

In the Internet era we are living in now, newspapers everywhere are facing declines in advertising and in readership. With the addition of the Local’s increasingly popular website, our readership is strong, even if the subscription base is smaller.

One of the changes I have noted, and which editor Pete Mazzaccaro has affirmed, is the reduction in the number of letters to the editor. The Local’s Forum used to be a thriving, vibrant exchange of ideas about any number of issues, including matters covered by the paper, opinion pieces about what our reviewers thought and whatever else was on the readers’ minds.

It was great stuff — and helped the paper and the community deal with issues both great and small. Instead of defunding the paper, which would allow anybody to do anything they wanted to in the community without anyone noticing or without anyone questioning, perhaps the board, the local merchants and the editors should keep encouraging people to write and to reestablish the Forum as just that, a community forum.

If the Local were to disappear, or simply be funded as a newsletter rather than a newspaper, the consequences to the community and to the truth would be far greater than an occasional article with which some might disagree.

Clark Groome

North Wales

 

Abandoned cats have found homes

To anyone that complains about the Chestnut Hill Local being a “rathole,” really needs to either open their eyes and read the Local or get a new prescription for glasses.

What other local weekly paper commits to putting a homeless pet in every edition? Despite their efforts to make certain everything can fill that week’s news, the editors help a homeless pet every week. Faithfully. And because of the Chestnut Hill Local’s devotion, many forgotten cats I have submitted have found homes.

So, the whole “rat hole” remark just doesn’t hurt the wonderful people behind the Local, but to the abandoned strays sitting in cages that can miss an opportunity of not being turned away, all because of a cruel, false metaphor.

How inhumane can people really be?

Gina DeNofa

Northeast Philadelphia

 

Thanks to the Local

Thank you so much for providing me with a few copies of my mother’s obituary in your March 20, 2014 edition. I truly appreciate the paper in the word newspaper. Additionally, your obituary was so well-presented and seemed heartfelt. Thank you again.

Elizabeth Emlen

Perkiomenvillle, PA.

Volunteer Day at Fort Washington State Park

 

Thank you to all the volunteers

Thank you all so much for taking the time to volunteer at Fort Washington State Park this spring. After a very long and snowy winter, we were blessed with warm, sunny weather for our Annual Volunteer Day.

A tremendous amount of work was accomplished by 275 energetic and enthusiastic volunteers of all ages, all with a “How can I help?” attitude. The support the park receives is greatly appreciated and your efforts help to ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

You helped plant 80 flowering dogwood trees throughout the park, and secure protective tubes on existing trees. Winter ice storms brought down an unusually large number of branches this year, which you cleared away from picnic areas and roadsides. The flower gardens throughout the park were cleaned out and readied for the growing season. You raked volleyball courts and picnic areas, and removed trash from the creek areas. We hope you all enjoyed the delicious snacks and picnic lunch donated by local merchants, volunteers and “Friends” of Fort Washington State Park.

We thank you again for helping to revitalize your park. We look forward to seeing you enjoying your park throughout the year, and at Volunteer Day next spring.

Eric Ihlein, Park Manager

Fort Washington State Park

John Kafes, President

Friends of Fort Washington

Marylea Klauder

Friends of Fort Washington,

Volunteer Coordinator