CHCA likely to seek partnership for web portal

With the influx of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, smaller communities like Chestnut Hill are feeling the need to update their e-presence.

Media sites are sprouting up all over the country and with the recent launch of Chestnut Hill-focused sites – such as AOL’s Patch.com site and Newsworks.org and even Hill on the Avenue – the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA), which publishes the Chestnut Hill Local, is wondering how to respond.

 At a Monday night meeting in Chestnut Hill, the rapidity of technological change was a major talking point. News is accessible 24/7 and with tools such as a share option or comment section, readers have an opportunity to contribute more to the news cycle.

Chestnut Hill Community Association Board Member Rob Remus led the meeting, held at the Chestnut Hill Hotel, with nearly 20 people in attendance. Remus projected images of news sites including Patch.com, Hill on the Avenue, and Newsworks.org as examples of hyper-local sites in the area to show how a web portal is laid out and what the content usually consists of.

The meeting had been a long time coming, as the CHCA recognized increasingly the concern over the technical logistics of building a web portal. Several options had been laid out in recent weeks and were reiterated at the meeting.

Three representatives from AOL’s Patch.com attended the meeting and addressed the group’s concerns over what some described as AOL’s “Goliath” presence in the community.

“Patch is about being hyper local. Our goal is to be a part of the community, to reflect on the community,” said Regional Editor Lucy Bennett.

CHCA members said their main goal is a community web portal that will fairly represent Chestnut Hill, its businesses, residents, and its unique qualities, while also being able to compete for ad revenue with larger organizations such as Patch.com.

One suggestion was to form a partnership within the community between organizations such as CHCA, the Chestnut Hill Business Association, and other independent groups.

“Exclusivity is not an option,” said Gerald Tracy, the business development manager of Calkins Media, which owns phillyburbs.com.

Membership in the CHCA has declined, as has advertisement revenue, and subscriptions to the Chestnut Hill Local, a community based weekly started over 60 years ago by the CHCA.

“We need an augmented tool, we’ve had the Local, we need something more,” Remus said, “Something that incorporates businesses and institutions a bit more.”

Competition with local towns such as Blue Bell, Doylestown, and Jenkintown for shoppers is also a serious concern. The web portal could serve as a destination web site that would not only report news and other citizen concerns, but might attract visitors to the town by highlighting aspects such as businesses, restaurants and other recreational activities.

“”What’s missing from the CHCA, the Business Association, and the Local is not the resources, and it’s not the relationships, what’s missing is a tool that can compete with Patch,” Tracy continued.

This idea that partnerships need to be formed in order for a web portal to succeed was a point that was returned to over and over again. Remus alluded to the fact that there were several institutions and associations represented in the room which could provide a partnership for the web portal and provide the necessary revenue to start the project. Remus estimated it would cost upwards of $100,000 to reach the goal of being self-sustaining within 18 months. 

“If everyone doesn’t want to do it together, then I don’t think it should be done,” said Tracy.

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