Reporting on the state of the Chestnut Hill Local

Posted 7/4/24

I recently had the pleasure of joining the CHCA’s Annual June Membership Meeting to report on the past year of business for The Local.

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Reporting on the state of the Chestnut Hill Local


I recently had the pleasure of joining the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s (CHCA) Annual June Membership Meeting to report on the past year of business for The Local. A “State of the Paper,” if you will. The Local’s board president owes an annual report to the CHCA Board and membership because the Community Association owns the newspaper. 

One of my goals as president of the Local's Board is to increase this community's connection to our beloved newspaper. So I'd like to share with you, our readers, the same news about our operations that I presented to the CHCA Board. 

This past winter, we completed our six-month journey with the Lab for Journalism Funding, which is designed to help media organizations rebuild their legacy operations with sustainable business models to compete in the reality of today’s industry. 

We welcomed the first-ever development director, Samantha Roff, and business growth officer, Daralyse Lyons, to our team. 

We said goodbye to both our longtime publisher and our longtime reporter, but have fantastic replacements for both on the way. We’re also hoping to start producing more, and better, photojournalism later this summer.

A long overdue office renovation, sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Fund (thank you, Fund!) will begin in August. 

Our product - in both editorial and advertising content - is stronger than ever. Last year, we won 15 statewide awards and were named the best weekly paper in the state by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. This year, we won more Editorial Awards than any other newspaper in our category, earning the coveted Sweepstakes Award for Best News Operation. Overall, across both editorial and advertising, we won 29 total awards, including nine first place and 13 second place. For more details, check out “The Local wins 29 media awards” article that was published in the June 26 edition.

Our circulation has grown: up by 3% in mailed and 17% in digital, which we think is an avenue of future growth for the paper. Our two-year business sustainability grant funded by the Lenfest Foundation includes the salary for a digital editor, who will start later this summer and will give our products a competitive edge in the age of social media.

However, our business did not escape its share of troubles. Namely, costs increased while revenue did not. 

Mailing costs are up 27% year over year, and printing costs are up 9%. The mailing costs are concerning, but the rise in printing costs is not all bad news. It’s partially due to our incredible business community filling the newspaper with ads that, in turn, enable us to continue to put out 20-plus-page papers every week. 

Speaking of advertising, though we ended our fiscal year showing almost a 5% increase in ad revenue year over year, unfortunately, that number is still under budget by about the same amount. 

The ad team, led by Leisha Shaffer, is doing great work, but the drop in ad revenue is a reality so many newspapers across the country are facing. In fact, 2 ½ of them, on average, are closing every week, according to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. We’re a lean organization without much, or any, redundancy, and still, general operating revenue does not cover the cost of producing the weekly paper. 

So what are we doing? We’re responding by investing in our products and diversifying income.

To that end, the quarterly Wissahickon magazine and semiannual Explore booklet drove ad revenue, strengthened partnerships with key Chestnut Hill institutions, and brought our newspaper to more readers. We’re also working to reconnect with our mission - to become the ambitious community connector and educator envisioned in our bylaws. 

And, as many newsrooms around us have done, we’ve turned to philanthropic support to close the gap. Newspapers that aren’t exploring every option are writing their own demise. 

We are so grateful to you, our CHCA partners and community members who may be reading this article, because for the second year The Local was included in the CHCA’s annual campaign appeal, generating about $60,000 in contributed income for the paper. Hard decisions are ahead of us but no matter what, we are committed to continuing the award-winning coverage of Chestnut Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods. 

To close, I'm going to borrow a line Editor Carla Robinson shared on a recent podcast, “we are a legacy news organization that thinks and acts like a start-up.” If you’d like to listen to the entire episode, search for “Carla Robinson and Daralyse Lyons: The Chestnut Hill Local” on The Journalism Salute podcast wherever you listen. 

With lean operations; big, creative ideas; engaged community members who feel a stake in their paper’s success; and a driven and ambitious team behind it all - we will read, love, and connect with our neighbors through the Chestnut Hill Local for years to come. 

Support the Local, and your community, by buying a subscription for a friend or a neighbor – or sharing an article on your social media channels. 

Thank you!

Jane Hughes

Chairman of the Board for the Chestnut Hill Local