March meeting scheduled for Chestnut Hill web portal plan

 

For the last 51 years residents and businesses of Chestnut Hill have looked to the Chestnut Hill Local for news and information about their community. This weekly publication has served as a voice for community members while also being a source of news about Chestnut Hill. This was the goal when the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) formed the Local half a century ago.

As we move into the digital age, with its focus on the internet and the use of tablets such as the Kindle and iPad, the CHCA knew that increasingly readers are migrating to the web.

Last year, a task force was formed to discuss the details of forming a web portal for Chestnut Hill. This portal would act as a funnel for viewers to quickly navigate business pages or information about community events, news, and local sports.

 

Not ready to vote

The CHCA had scheduled to vote on whether to approve a web portal tonight but because some members want more time a special session will be held March 3 to deal with any unanswered questions. A final vote would likely come at a future meeting.

“The portal is an interesting and excellent idea,” said CHCA board member Stephanie Chomentowski. But she also wants a better understanding of how the web portal could impact the Local.

“(We need) to invest in the Local,” Chomentowski added. “(There are) many issues with creating a separate entity.”

Chomentowski went on to say that a proposed joint venture between the CHCA and this web portal would be too much for the membership-driven organization to undertake; that there is a potential risk that the CHCA would be in competition with themselves in the form of the Local’s website. After all, the web portal would eventually need to seek out advertisers to gain revenue and momentum to stay afloat.

 

Could the Local website become the portal?

Larry Hochberger, associate publisher for the Chestnut Hill Local, doesn’t feel threatened by the potential of this web portal. He feels that the Local is fully capable of sustaining itself in this new media realm.

“Maybe we don’t have the skill set, compared to larger companies,” Hochberger said in reference to the manpower needed to take on web development, “(but) I’m confident in our abilities.”

Hochberger added that the Local has concentrated their efforts on technology, purchasing equipment that will help staff members work more efficiently.

In a memo to the CHCA Board of Directors, Hochberger laid out the potential outcomes and effects of a web portal and how it would relate to Chestnut Hill. Through his research, Hochberger found that “major metropolitan web portals continue to lose money and work to monetize their content for several years.”

The Local’s editor Pete Mazzaccaro finds some merit in the web portal idea but also maintains the existing website can the basis for a great website.

“I think we’re already a really good online destination for local news, but there’s a lot in terms of interactive and service oriented content we could offer,” Mazzaccaro said.

The Local has provided Chestnut Hill with a calendar of local events, online forums and a place for residents to post their own news and concerns for the community. But, Mazzaccaro said, these concerns would be better voiced within a larger entity.

“Right now, we’re doing more tweaking than anything. We’re looking at better ways to integrate Facebook in comments and in sharing stories,” Mazzaccaro said.

 

A web portal success story

Early on in the research process, Fenceviewer.com had become a point of reference when talking about the proposed web portal. Two weekly newspapers in Maine, put out by The Ellsworth American, felt the change in the media landscape.

Even though Hancock County Maine is a largely rural collection of communities, the staffers at The Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander felt the shift in media’s future and, after four months of weighing the options, Fenceviewer.com was born. The site offers a limited peek over the fence at content from the two community papers, teasers enticing readers to subscribe to the full edition of the digital subscriber.

Up until that point, both weeklies were available online, for free. The community did not support this venture at first. Readers called in, upset over the idea of paying for news. But, according to General Manager Terry Carlisle, eventually they came around.

Residents of Hancock community realized that “our (community-based) news is not available anywhere else than in our newspapers,” Carlisle said.

The trend was set, and people started subscribing to the digital format.

Carlisle is confident that what they chose to do will provide a model for other hyper-local news sites.

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