by LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

This could become a habit, Montclair.

As your new editor, I’ve pledged to spend a lot of time listening to your concerns and questions. And though we’re now hitting two editions of Montclair Local in a row, I don’t expect to be taking up space in every paper with my own thoughts and reflections — I’d rather use these pages (print and web alike) to explore yours. 

But I wanted to thank you, the Montclair community, for an incredibly warm welcome since we announced last week that I’d joined the team here.

I want to also extend some thanks from our editorial team — associate editor Jaimie Julia Winters (who kept this place running for months while my role was unfilled), sports editor and news reporter Andrew Garda, news reporter Erin Roll, copy editor Joe Dziublenski and paginator Andrea Bondy. Your support and engagement makes the work they, our sales team and the rest of the Montclair Local crew do possible.

Saturday, I took to Montclair Local’s Facebook page, coffee mug in hand, to say an informal hello and greet the community by live video. I wanted to share two of the many interesting questions that came up, and my thoughts.

From Nicole Farjani: “What is the topic that is most interesting to you in Montclair right now?” You don’t have to look much further than our front page this week to see it. Nothing gets closer to the heart of a community than what happens in its school system, and right now, Montclair’s is in limbo. Parents are deeply divided over whether it’s safe to return students to school buildings, and whether students can afford the emotional, practical and developmental costs of being away from in-person learning for much longer. We’re seeing a union express serious mistrust of a school administration it alleges hasn’t been transparent about safety plans. At Montclair Local, we’ve got our own questions about policies and building ventilation systems that so far haven’t been directly answered. And amid the acrimony, we’re seeing calls for support, sympathy and compassion for teachers and a school administration handed an extraordinary problem — one where no solutions could possibly satisfy everyone, or completely address every legitimate concern.

Meanwhile, many parents and students alike are just trying to make sense of an ever-shifting circumstance, learning just Friday night students wouldn’t be coming back to class on Monday. It’s dizzying and exhausting for all involved. But I will say this: The people I’ve personally encountered generally seem to be operating in good faith, earnest and honest in their desire to do right by Montclair’s children, even when they disagree sharply about what that means.

From Katya Wowk, spokesperson for the township’s government: “What are the plans to generate more revenue to make sure the paper will continue to provide excellent coverage well into the future?” I mentioned your support above, and we ask for it in every sense. Anyone who’s watched our industry over the last decade-plus has seen cutbacks to print papers, which have struggled to keep up revenue — and often haven’t found a substitute for it in online advertising. We’ve certainly seen it here in Montclair. Printing is expensive. Distribution is expensive. And paying my salary as well as the salaries of the dedicated people I listed above is expensive. 

We’re tremendously fortunate here at Montclair Local to have been founded by community members who believe in what we do — Heeten and Thalla-Marie Choxi, who poured some heaping piles of their own money into Montclair Local’s LLC, and who remain major donors as we formally complete our transition to a nonprofit organization. And we’re fortunate to be in a community where other people of means believe, as Heeten and Thalla-Marie do, that an informed community is a better community. It’s that support that has helped us resist the trend toward reporting local news with the bare minimum of resources (or failing to report it at all). We’ve got an aggressive schedule of fundraising activities and outreach coming up, an active development effort to continue securing grants, and a leadership team that’s practical and realistic about balancing costs against revenues. And like most local news organizations, we continue to sell advertisements to support our work through more traditional means.

We value our high-ticket donors (a lot!), but our monthly subscribers give us the foundation we need to keep going — and the circulation we need to make those advertisements valuable to Montclair’s business community. A $5-per-month membership cost covers our printing and mailing costs, and gets you a copy of the weekly print edition. A $10-per-month donation helps support our work directly. And if you’ve got the means and believe in what we do, we’re of course glad to accept higher levels of support. See the “Membership” menu at MontclairLocal.news to donate online. 

Those are just a few of the interesting questions. We got others that piqued my interest on what more we can do for our arts community and our seniors, and both groups are as integral to Montclair as any other. Those are avenues I expect to explore myself as I keep getting to know the community. Keep hitting me with questions and suggestions, Montclair — I’m at Hochman@MontclairLocal.news. We’re asking for your support, and we know that means we can never stop the work to earn it. We’re here to serve you.

Louis C. Hochman is the editor in chief and CEO of the Montclair Local nonprofit news organization. He has three cats, too much photo equipment and a passion for community news. Learn more about him and the rest of the Montclair Local team here.