I’m asking you to write and tell me what you think. After all, this is your newspaper.
My heart sank when I got the text about yet another incident of neo-Nazi stickers being plastered on streetlight posts last week along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. This was the third time in recent months. The fourth, actually, if we’re counting the hateful propaganda that showed up on some front lawns in Springfield Township earlier this year.
Then, later that same day, when Jenks principal Corinne Scioli wrote to tell me what her school community was planning to do in response, I felt a profound wave of grateful admiration. The students’ plan to insert their own loving words into the tarnished public space was not only strong and powerful, it was inspiring. It made me proud to call Jenks our neighborhood school.
I also felt relief. And news editors all over the country – and indeed the world – will know exactly what I’m talking about.
“Now that can be the lead of the story,” I thought to myself. “I won’t have to give these vile people any extra oxygen.”
For those of us whose job it is to report such things, news like this presents a terrible conundrum. Cover it and you give bad actors the attention they crave. Avoid it and you’re not giving readers the facts they need.
There’s also our collective trust in one another to consider. These are acts of intimidation, pure and simple, designed to make us look differently at our neighbors and wonder who did it. And for all we know, it could have been a pair of lonely idiots who don’t usually summon the courage to leave their basement. Would we really want to give them that kind of power?
It’s also possible that these ideas are taking hold here in our relatively liberal enclave in a very liberal city in a whole new way. If true, that would be information we certainly need.
There’s no doubt these people read coverage of their cowardly acts and are gladdened by it. They appreciate what they see as our help in amplifying their impact.
Personally, I’ve recently been treated to regular communication from one such vile person halfway across the country, who describes himself as a “church leader.” After the Local reported the June incident in Chestnut Hill, he called and wrote to thank us for our reporting and to brag about "affiliate members" who live nearby.
I’ve been getting his emails ever since. His September missive, in fact, outlined plans to target schools as a way of marking the start of the public school year.
I obviously have no way of knowing if his claims are true.
But someone sent him the article that appeared in our little local newspaper. And we do know that materials like these stickers are showing up more often. Since 2021, the Delaware Valley has been the site of a 25% increase in this type of antisemitic incident, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
So as I sit in this chair, and feel the weight of responsibility for content that appears in this newspaper, I wonder: What is the best way for a community newspaper to respond to events like this?
Personally, I prefer to think it’s just two idiots in a basement – and would love to ignore them. But I also have people who sit very close to my heart whose family histories give them good reason to fear the worst.
So I’m asking you to write and tell me what you think. After all, this is your newspaper, and we’re now on incident number four. Sadly, we can’t be surprised if it happens again.