Montclair, I’m listening for your voices (Letter from the new editor)
Montclair, I’ve missed you.
I miss watching Rhett Miller from the Old 97s sweat clean through his shirt in 2016, rocking a one-man concert before a very polite audience at Outpost in the Burbs. I miss the huge, Muppet-like creatures looming over patrons sipping from gigantic mugs at the old Café Eclectic. I miss dragging my digital piano to Tierney’s for an open mic, where I’d only hope not to embarrass myself alongside the many more substantial musical talents of the Montclair area.
But here’s the thing: I can name-drop (and nostalgia-drop) businesses and experiences all day long. None of that makes me a Montclairian. None of it makes me of Montclair. None of it has anything to do with whether I deserve to help tell your stories, help shine a light on your problems, help explore your solutions as the new editor in chief of Montclair Local.
I’m an interloper, Montclair. Let’s lay it right out on the table. I’ve lived near the township a few times, in a walking-distance-away apartment in West Orange, and in a handful of homes in eastern Morris County. I’ve spent plenty of time here. But I’ve never lived in Montclair, and don’t expect to soon. I’m taking this job with an expectation of a multi-hour commute (well, once life returns to something resembling normal), planning to rent a room in town to at least get a foothold here.
(“Here” — it’s an interesting choice of a word, and not one I chose consciously, as I’m writing from nowhere near the township. But when I’m on the job, my sense of place is wrapped up in the community I’m covering. It’ll have to be, if I hope to do right by you, Montclair.)
So I’ve got a lot to prove, and a lot of trust to earn, if I’m going to ask to be accepted as part of this community — and that’s more than fair.
A bit about myself: I’m a two-decade-plus journalist. They say journalists have ink in their veins, and it’s true. I started my career heavily involved in print papers, at Rutgers’ Daily Targum and a series of community weeklies and dailies (mostly in New Jersey, but for a while as the managing editor of the Kent County and Warwick Daily Times in Rhode Island).
I joined Morris County’s Daily Record to do print design and copy editing before eventually moving over to the digital desk when the paper’s parent company, Gannett, consolidated design work into another office (I believe this community knows a thing or two about Gannett cutbacks).
I’m late of Patch, late of NJ.com, late of New Jersey 101.5, where I focused on growing audiences online through compelling storytelling and newsgathering.
And now, I join the nonprofit Montclair Local, alongside a team of talented and dedicated people already working hard to fulfill founder Heeten Choxi’s vision of a publication that makes a community better and more empowered by being more informed. I’m humbled by all they’ve done already to show nonprofit news can serve a community earnestly, thoroughly, sustainably — that what we do here could be a model for better serving communities throughout New Jersey and beyond. I hope to help them take that good work even further.
I believe in core values of equity and inclusion, and that complacency is the enemy of both, particularly for those (like myself) who have enjoyed a measure of privilege in life. I believe any publication has to engage all of the community it serves, including and especially the people whose voices are too frequently pushed out of the mainstream because of their identity, their culture, their race, their economic standing, their unique concerns … or the universal concerns they’re less often given the opportunity and access to address.
I believe my own work to that end has never been enough, and I strive to do better.
I believe we can continue building networks that reflect Montclair’s rich diversity, and that elevate more voices. And I believe we have a responsibility to build connections and pipelines that lead people from more backgrounds to engage with us, to work with us, to teach us, to partner with us, and most certainly to become part of us as we grow our team.
Those are principles I hope to support here, as we continue exploring all the ways we can serve Montclair. Importantly, that means doing a lot of listening.
To that end, I invite you to say a quick hello this Saturday, Jan. 23, when I’ll make myself available on Facebook Live to introduce myself to Montclair — join us at Facebook.com/MontclairLocal at 1 p.m.
And in the coming weeks, we’ll be planning more formal and deeper listening sessions, and I’ll be reaching out to community groups personally.
I look forward to getting to know you again, more completely than ever before, Montclair.
Louis C. Hochman is the editor in chief of Montclair Local, as well as the CEO of its associated nonprofit. 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.