Newspapers try to stay out of the news. To that end, we’re not in the habit of writing about ourselves. But the paper reached a milestone last month that should be noted.
On May 29, at the monthly meeting of the Chestnut Hill Local’s Board of Directors, that body’s first president, Bob Warner, stepped down after a three-year term to be replaced by fellow board member Ellen Badger. It was simply the end of his term. And, fortunately for us, he’ll remain a member of the board.
First, a few words about the Local’s Board of Directors. Since its founding in 1959, the Chestnut Hill Local has been owned by the Chestnut Hill Community Association. For 57 of its first 60 years of existence, the paper was governed by an ever-changing, ad hoc structure. Sometimes the Local was overseen by a Local Management Committee. Sometimes it was simply overseen by the CHCA’s Board of Directors. Other times the responsibility fell to the CHCA’s executive director – a position long called “Community Manager.”
Three years ago, in becoming a 501(c)(3), the CHCA retained ownership of the Local, but separated from the newspaper and created an independent board of directors. The CHCA took the charge of choosing this board seriously, interviewing candidates through a panel created by former CHCA president Brien Tilley. The panel suggested a final slate that was approved by the CHCA in February of 2016.
At its first meeting, the group voted to make Warner its president. Warner was a good choice for at least two reasons. First, he was a longtime resident of Chestnut Hill. Second, he was a veteran political reporter who spent 37 years with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was the perfect person to get the organization off its feet, possessing an intimate knowledge of both the neighborhood and the craft of journalism.
Under Warner’s guidance, the Local board set to work on challenges at the paper both new and old. It grappled with how to stem the tide of circulation declines as more and more readers turned to news online. The board discussed editorial policy, advertising strategy and grant funding. It organized and was ready to start a strategic planning phase, but was thrown a curveball when Local publisher Larry Hochberger announced he would be leaving at the end of the summer last year. All attention turned to the search for his replacement – John Derr – which was finalized in October.
While the success of the board will eventually be tied to the success of the Local, I think it was able to claim at least one significant accomplishment over the last two years: It has been an independent body that has put the mission and health of the Chestnut Hill Local as its top priority. While all of the Local’s board members (you can find their names on the masthead below this column) deserve a great deal of credit for maintaining that independence, Bob Warner’s unwavering commitment to the core missions of a newspaper based on sound principles of journalism and its service to readers has been instrumental.
In the coming months, as the Local continues to work to grow, we will be in a better position to do so because its board is as dedicated to doing so as its staff. It’s no small accomplishment.