The time has come to end my role as publisher of The Local

Posted 10/5/23

It was five years ago this month that I became the publisher of the Chestnut Hill Local. For me, it’s been an eventful period.

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The time has come to end my role as publisher of The Local


If a person’s life is a novel, I’d reckon that five years or so is a chapter, or should be. It was five years ago this month that I became the publisher of the Chestnut Hill Local. For the protagonist in my story (me), it’s been an eventful period. But now it is time to move the story along. 

Several weeks ago, I notified Chestnut Hill Local Board president Joel Barras that I was resigning. I started that conversation with, “I think it’s time.” And, he knew what I meant.   

My decision to leave a job that has been challenging and rewarding, along with frustrating and nerve-wracking, was made all the more difficult because of my amazing and dedicated co-workers upstairs at 8434 Germantown Avenue, all of whom work for wages below their personal market values. They are committed individuals who pride themselves on trying to produce the best community weekly newspaper possible. And they’ve succeeded.  So say the judges of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s New Organization of the Year contest!  

We are an interesting, delightful menagerie of personalities, closely packed, jostled, nudged, and knocked against each other as we traverse the perpetually rough road of producing a quality newspaper and updated website.  When you are a small team and when you face adversity together, bonds are formed and you become almost like a small family . . . at times dysfunctional . . . of course, but always pulling together to get the job done, get the paper out, and sometimes just survive another week. 

The community leaders I’ve worked with and the community members I’ve engaged with have also been exceptionally supportive, generous, and kind. 

I think we’ve accomplished a great deal in my five years at the Local. I won’t bore anybody by listing what I perceive as achievements. But I will share with you one major area where I have not been successful. And that is putting the Local on firm financial footing with cash reserves and the ability to expand into new areas and launch new digital products.  

There are still more than a few payroll weeks a year that I have needed to hold my breath and suck in my gut as we squeak through. Often, it seems Divine Providence, not cunning cash flow prowess, gets us through. 

As newspapers go, we are not alone. Independent newspapers all over the country are closing or selling to major chains or hedge funds such as Alden Global Capital. It’s like sending your dog to live with Cruella DeVil because you can’t afford to feed it. 

There are some of you who are reading this that probably believe that could not happen here. The long road of human history is lined with stories of people not appreciating what they had until it was gone. Some are even paved with Belgian block. 

Not every newspaper is deserving of its community’s support. But The Local absolutely is. It is a diamond in a field of cubic zirconia. Whether an untrained eye can distinguish it or not does not make it any less so. It is a serious news product created by professional journalists and newspaper veterans. And we are free to publish a paper focused on informing our community, rather than appeasing shareholders. It is an increasingly rare privilege.

I am moving on to work for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association in Harrisburg, where I hope to be able to have a positive impact on The Local and other newspapers like it in the Commonwealth. 

You can have a positive impact on The Local by buying a subscription or CHCA membership for a neighbor you know does not subscribe. Something as simple as that, by a few hundred readers, would be a tremendous help to The Local and to the community. It would not only help to improve communication in our neighborhoods, but it would increase ad response to local businesses. 

Next week, I’ll write about the future of The Local as I see it, as it starts a new chapter as well. 

John Derr